Major cities in China ease COVID-19 restrictions after protests

Chinese authorities continue to ease COVID-19 restrictions, with several cities, including Shenzhen and Beijing, no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport.

The moves come at the same time as daily COVID-19 infections in China are nearing an all-time high and follow recent protests from people across the country frustrated by the Chinese government’s rigid enforcement of antivirus restrictions.

Authorities in southern Shenzhen on Saturday said commuters would no longer be required to show a negative COVID-19 test to use public transport or when entering pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.

The decision follows similar steps taken by the southern city of Chengdu and the northern metropolis of Tianjin.

In Beijing, authorities said on Friday that negative COVID-19 test results will no longer be required for public transport from Monday. However, a negative result achieved in the last 48 hours is still required to enter locations such as malls, which have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries offering take-out services.

Beijing has also begun closing public test booths, a move that has generated both cheers and concern.

A video showing workers in Beijing removing a test booth with a crane was widely shared on Chinese social media on Friday, with one commenter saying, “This should have been taken down sooner!” and another who declared, “Banished to history”.

But others complained that since most public locations in the city still require COVID-19 testing, the closure of test booths had led to hours of queues at those booths that remained open.

In the wake of recent demonstrations, which erupted on November 25 after at least 10 people died in a fire at a partially enclosed apartment block in the western city of Urumqi, the Chinese government has pledged to ease disruption to COVID-19 controls. on daily life.

But Chinese authorities are also sticking to a zero-COVID approach.

Important reopening

Many analysts say they don’t expect a significant reopening of the country until after March, as China must first deliver on a newly launched vaccination campaign targeting the elderly.

Estimates for the number of deaths China could see as it pivots to a full reopening ranged from 1.3 million to more than 2 million, though some researchers said the death toll could be greatly reduced if there was a focus on vaccination.

China reported 32,827 daily local COVID-19 infections on Saturday, up from 34,772 a day earlier. As of Friday, China had reported 5,233 COVID-related deaths and 331,952 cases with symptoms.

Dr. World Health Organization emergency director Michael Ryan said on Friday the United Nations agency was “happy” to see China relax some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying: “It is very important that governments listen to their people when the people hurt.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, meeting with European Union officials in Beijing on Thursday, blamed mass protests among young people frustrated by years of the pandemic, but said the now-dominant Omicron variant of the virus was paving the way for fewer restrictions, EU officials said. .

Officials recently began downplaying the dangers of Omicron, a major change in messaging in a country where fears of COVID-19 are deeply entrenched.

Wiping out protesters

While authorities are easing some of the COVID-19 restrictions, they are also detaining people who have taken part in recent protests. Police in cities like Shanghai are checking commuters’ phones for apps or virtual private network software that the protesters communicated with, according to protesters and social media posts.

On Saturday, police had a heavy presence in the streets near Wulumuqi Road in Shanghai, named after Urumqi and the site of a vigil for victims of the fire that sparked protests over the weekend.

A similarly large police presence was seen at the Liangmaqiao interchange in eastern Beijing as authorities attempted to delay any possible follow-up to last weekend’s unrest.

China is the only major country in the world still sticking to a “zero COVID” strategy, which aims to isolate every infected person. The policy has been in place since the pandemic began in late 2019, resulting in immediate lockdowns and mass testing of the public across China.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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