China tones down on severity of Covid-19 after protests


China is toning down on the severity of Covid-19 and easing some coronavirus restrictions, even as the number of daily cases nears all-time highs, after anger over the world’s toughest restrictions fueled protests across the country. country.

Despite continuing to record new Covid-19 infections, several cities in the world’s second-largest economy are breaking the practice by lifting lockdowns in their districts and allowing businesses to reopen.

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Chinese health authorities who announced the easing of measures made no mention of protests across China, which ranged from torchlight processions in Beijing to clashes with police in the streets of Guangzhou on Tuesday and at an iPhone factory in Zhengzhou last week. .

The demonstrations were the largest show of civil disobedience in mainland China since the country’s president, Xi Jinpingthey took over a decade ago and come as the economy is about to enter a new era of much slower growth than seen in decades.

Despite the near record number of cases, the Deputy Prime Minister, Sun Chunlanwho oversees Covid-19 policy, said the virus’s ability to cause disease was weakening, state media reported.

“The country is facing a new situation and new tasks of epidemic prevention and control, as the pathogenicity of omicron (variant) virus weakens, more people are vaccinated, and experience in virus containment accumulates,” Sun said in a statement. comments reported by state media.

Sun also urged further “optimization” of testing, treatment and quarantine policies.

The mention of the weakening of the pathogenesis contrasts with the previous messages of the authorities on the lethality of the virus.

Change of norms

Less than 24 hours after the violent protests in Guangzhou, authorities in at least seven districts of this vast industrial hub in northern Hong Kong said they were lifting temporary lockdowns. One of the districts said it would allow in-person classes to resume in schools and reopen restaurants and other businesses, including movie theaters.

Some changes are implemented with little fanfare.

A community of thousands in eastern Beijing is allowing infected people with mild symptoms to self-isolate at home, according to new rules issued by the neighborhood committee and seen by Reuters.

Neighbors on the same floor and three floors above and below the home of a positive case should also quarantine at home, a committee member said.

This measure is a far cry from the quarantine protocols of earlier this year, when entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after a single positive case was detected.

Another nearby community is conducting an online survey this week about whether positive cases are isolating at home, residents said.

“I certainly welcome our residential community’s decision to hold this vote regardless of the outcome,” the resident said. tom simpsonsmanaging director for China at the China-UK Business Council.

He said his main concern was being forced into a quarantine centre, where “conditions can be nothing short of desolate”.

The famous nationalist commentator Hu Xijin He said in a social media post on Wednesday that many asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus in Beijing had already been quarantined at home.

The southwestern city of Chongqing will allow close contacts of people with Covid-19 to self-quarantine at home who meet certain conditions, while central China’s Zhengzhou announced the “orderly” reopening of businesses, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.

National health officials said this week that authorities would respond to “urgent concerns” raised by the public and that Covid-19 rules should be applied more flexibly, depending on conditions in each region.

Reopen next year?

Expectations have risen around the world that China, while trying to contain infections, could look to reopen next year once it achieves better vaccination rates among its elderly.

Health experts warn of the possibility of widespread illness and death if Covid-19 policies are relaxed before vaccination is ramped up.

Chinese stocks and markets around the world initially fell after weekend protests in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, but then rallied on hopes that public pressure could lead to a new approach from the authorities .

Further outbreaks of Covid-19 could weigh on economic activity in China in the near term, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, adding that it sees the possibility of a safe recalibration of policies that could allow economic growth to resume in 2023.

China’s stringent containment measures have slowed domestic economic activity this year and spread to other countries through supply chain disruptions.

After disappointing official survey data on Wednesday, the Caixin/S&P Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index showed factory activity contracted in November for the fourth consecutive month.

Although the change of tone in the face of Covid-19 seems to be a response to public discontent with the strict measures, the authorities are also trying to question those present at the demonstrations.

The China Dissent Monitor organization, run by Freedom House and funded by the US government, estimated that there were at least 27 demonstrations across China between Saturday and Monday. Australian think tank ASPI estimated 43 protests in 22 cities.

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