BEIJING — In a dramatic reversal, China announced a series of measures to roll back some of the most draconian restrictions against COVID-19, including strict lockdown restrictions and orders for schools Schools with no cases of infection resume normal classes.
The National Health Commission in a 10-point notice on Wednesday specified that COVID-19 tests and clean health bills displayed on the smartphone app will no longer be necessary, except for vulnerable areas such as kindergartens, aged care facilities and schools. It also limits the size of the blockade to individual floors and apartment buildings, rather than entire counties and neighborhoods.
Those who test positive for the virus will be able to isolate at home instead of in overcrowded and unsanitary makeshift hospitals, and schools without outbreaks will have to return to teaching. on class.
Inform later recent street protests in several cities on a strict “no COVID” policy now entering its fourth year, which is said to have upset normal life, travel and jobs and dealt a blow to the national economy. .
China has sought to maintain a hardline policy while keeping the world’s second-largest economy afloat, but public frustration over the restrictions seems to have finally shaken opinion. of officials, who have advocated “no COVID” as superior to the approach taken by foreign nations. opened in the hope of learning to live with the virus.
“Relevant departments in all localities must further improve their political positions…
Officials, often those at the local level under great pressure to contain the outbreak, must “oppose and overcome formalism and bureaucracy, and take strict measures and details to protect the safety of people’s lives and health to the highest degree and minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development,” the statement said.
Newly reported cases of COVID-19 in China fell from a record more than 40,000 daily in recent days to just 20,764 on Wednesday, the majority of them asymptomatic.
Under the new measures, the blockade order can last no more than 5 days unless new cases are detected, restrictions on the sale of cold medicines will be lifted and vaccination for the elderly will be increased. .
Suspensions of service for businesses and transportation companies will be lifted and more attention will be paid to public safety, with fire exits no longer blocked due to the lockdown.
Recent protests include calls for leader Xi Jinping to step down. The protests began on November 25 after at least 10 people died in a fire at an apartment building in Urumqi, in the northwest. Authorities rejected suggestions that firefighters or victims were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. But the disaster has become the focus of public frustration.
In its announcement, the National Health Commission did not mention the fires, the protests or any official end to the “zero-COVID”, which is closely identified with the authorities. by Mr. Xi. The policy has driven most visitors out of China and disrupted global manufacturing and trade.
Officials for days have been gradually lifting the restrictions.
On Monday, passengers in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without testing for the virus in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.
Industrial hubs including Guangzhou near Hong Kong have reopened markets and businesses, lifting most travel restrictions while maintaining restrictions on businesses residential areas with infected people.
The government announced plans last week to vaccinate millions of people in their 70s and 80s, a condition for ending “COVID-free” restrictions.
Health experts and economists warn it will not be until mid-2023 and possibly 2024 before vaccination rates are high enough and hospitals are prepared to handle a possible wave of infections.