China: strict Covid-19 protocols have been eased after protests took place across the country
China has eased its Covid-19 restrictions after protests rippled throughout the country
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The move includes limiting the scale of lockdown to individual apartment floors and buildings, rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods.
People who test positive can isolate at home rather than in overcrowded and unsanitary field hospitals, and schools, where there have been no outbreaks, must return to in-class teaching. People also no longer need to show a negative PCR test for most public venues, although that is still needed for schools and hospitals.
The announcement follows recent street protests in several cities over the strict “zero-Covid” policy. The restrictions have been blamed for upending ordinary life, travel and employment.
Just last month the National Health Commission announced measures such as:
- Restrictions like lockdowns should be applied to more precisely identified areas - for example, certain buildings, units and floors as opposed to the whole neighbourhood or city-wide lockdowns
- High-risk areas should come out of lockdown in five days if no new cases are found
- Secondary close contacts would no longer have to be identified although close contacts would still be.
The guidelines also included a strict ban on blocking fire exits and doors and said people had to be able to access emergency medical treatment and escape routes unhindered by pandemic control measures which follow reports of people being locked into their homes and buildings.
China had also forced people with Covid and anyone who was a close contact to go to quarantine camps, which led to the separation between families and removed people from their homes.
However the Chinese Communist Party refused to link the loosening of restrictions with the protests, saying instead it was based on the Omicron variant having less serious symptoms.
Chinese Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan said in a meeting with experts from the National Health Commission the country is “facing a new situation and new tasks as the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus diminishes, vaccination becomes more widespread and experience [grows] in prevention and controls”.
What does easing the restrictions mean for China?
The changes show China moving away from its zero-Covid policy and looking to "live with the virus" like the rest of the world. The country is currently grappling with its biggest wave of infections of over 30,000 each day.
Public frustration with the restrictions appears to have finally convinced the opinion of officials who had championed zero-Covid as superior to the approach of foreign nations.
Chinese Citizens have expressed relief but also concern at the sudden changes. One person wrote on Chinese social media: "Finally! I will no longer worry about getting infected or being taken away as a close contact".
Another person said: "Can anyone explain to me what’s happening? Why is the change all of a sudden and so major?"
A third person questioned the rapid nature of the rule changes: "The medical system will be overwhelmed and many elderly would be infected. It begins now".
Protests included the country’s largest street demonstrations in decades, in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Other cities such as Wuhan and Xi’an also took part in street protests.
Security services were used to deter the protests and hundreds of SUVs, vans and armoured vehicles were parked along city streets. Police and paramilitary forces conducted random ID checks and searched people’s mobile phones for photos, banned apps or other potential evidence that they had taken part in the demonstrations.