China further relaxes Covid-19 rules despite high infection numbers

Cities including Beijing and Shanghai announced an end to checking commuters’ Covid-19 test results before they are allowed to board public transport.


The easing of measures in cities can’t be interpreted as China abandoning its zero-Covid-19 policy yet. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

December 5, 2022

BEIJING – Some Chinese cities further eased Covid-19 measures over the weekend, including scrapping test result checks at some places, in yet another sign that China is setting the stage for moving towards co-existing with the virus.

Cities including Beijing and Shanghai on Saturday announced an end to checking commuters’ Covid-19 test results before they are allowed to board public transport.

Shanghai also said that public areas in the open, including parks, will no longer require visitors to show their test results.

In the capital city, residents can now buy cold and anti-fever medication over the counter without registering, reversing a year-long rule essentially forcing anyone exhibiting symptoms to see a doctor in a hospital.

Anecdotally, local officials also appear more open to allowing some who test positive to quarantine at home, but there has been no official announcement confirming the policy.

While public transportation no longer requires a negative test result, areas like shopping malls and office buildings still require it. Yet testing booths that used to be on every street corner seem to have disappeared, resulting in snaking queues that could take up to an hour to do a test in the harsh winter chill.

The country on Sunday reported 31,619 new infections, of which 27,433 were asymptomatic.

In recent weeks, there appears to have been a shift in the government’s Covid-19 response, with a top official in charge not using the term “dynamic zero-Covid” during several meetings with healthcare workers, while state media also seem to have shifted their messaging, saying that getting infected is not that scary.

China has for the past three years stuck to its “zero-Covid-19” policy, which relies heavily on mass testing and lockdowns to keep infection numbers low.

But there has been growing weariness with the increasingly disruptive lockdowns, along with reports of abuse by community workers, that have led to pushback in the form of residents refusing to be taken into centralised quarantine, or others who protest extended lockdowns.

Social media has also been rife with posts of Shanghai-based doctor Zhang Wenhong saying the current Omicron strain is less deadly than previous strains.

Speaking during a medical conference on Saturday, Dr Zhang was also quoted as saying that data collected during Shanghai’s massive outbreak in the summer showed that vaccinated patients, especially the elderly, were less sick and recovered faster.

The government has said that it would step up a campaign to vaccinate the elderly, who have been the largest holdouts in getting vaccinated.

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