China: Towards relaxation of controversial ‘zero Covid’ policy

Speaking at the National Health Commission (NHC) on Wednesday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said China’s approach to the virus was “facing new situations” thanks to the less dangerous nature of the Omicron variant and advances in the vaccine. On Tuesday, Beijing had already decided to speed up vaccination of the elderly, which is still not enough.

Ms Sun, a central figure in China’s strategy to combat the pandemic, has made no mention of a “zero Covid” policy in remarks repeated by state news agency Chine Nouvelle, raising hopes that the strategy is disrupting the entire world. The lives of the Chinese and their country’s economy will soon be eased for three years. Frustrated by repeated arrests and near-daily PCR tests, thousands of Chinese demonstrated last weekend in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Wuhan – where the first cases were detected in December 2019. It was the most widespread wave of protests since the pro mobilisations. Tiananmen democracy in 1989. Surprised, communist authorities have called for a “repression” to curb the movement, but appear to want to adjust their health policies.

Relief at the local level

As such, Beijing has announced that it will relax its PCR testing requirements. Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the municipal government, said that elderly people and those who study or work remotely are now exempt from daily tests. Residents of the capital must present a negative test within 48 hours to enter public places.

Read also Protests in China: China’s ambassador to France acknowledges ‘discontent’ and hits out at West

In Canton (in the south), where clashes pitted demonstrators against police on Tuesday, a weeks-long curfew was lifted despite a record number of pollution cases. Because, if the numbers are among the highest since the start of the pandemic, they remain proportionately small: 35,800 local cases out of a population of 1.4 billion were reported on Thursday, with the vast majority of asymptomatic cases.

On Thursday, the Southern Metropolis Daily, a state-run newspaper, said authorities in Beijing and Guangzhou will allow some people who test positive to self-isolate at home instead of going to a quarantine center. The article has since been removed and AFP’s requests for confirmation from local authorities have not been answered. The city of Chongqing (the center) allowed contact cases who met certain conditions to stay at home, a clear shift from the policy until then, which required all – positive cases and contacts – to go to a quarantine center.

Analysts at ANZ Research said these local reliefs, along with Ms Su’s remarks, “could be a sign that China is beginning to consider ending its strict zero Covid policy”.

On Thursday morning, two major Chinese newspapers published expert comments to reassure the general public that Covid is not dangerous in most cases, following similar publications in recent days that have prepared the public for a change in mindset.

Tiredness

As the third anniversary of the detection of the first cases in Wuhan approaches, the population is experiencing fatigue. A deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of northwestern Xinjiang region, sparked protests over the weekend, with some netizens blaming health restrictions for hampering rescue efforts. But demonstrators also chanted political slogans, with some even calling for the resignation of President Xi Jinping, who was renewed for an unprecedented third term last month. The 1989 mobilizations ended in bloody reprisals with the military, particularly Beijing’s intervention in Tiananmen Square.

On Wednesday, when the death of former President Jiang Zemin, who came to power in the wake of these latest events, was announced, the Communist Party rightly emphasized its ability to restore calm during this uprising. US foreign policy chief Anthony Blinken said on Wednesday that China’s crackdown on the new demonstrations was a “sign of weakness” by communist leaders. “What the United States should do is to seriously respond to the needs of its own people and take care of its own affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday.

For his part, Wang Dan, a student leader during the Tiananmen Square protests who has since sought refuge in the United States, believes that the mobilization against “zero Covid” in China has shattered the “myth”. society”. “For the past 30 years, there has been a myth that the younger generation or the middle class is really happy with the government, but these protests show us the truth,” he said in Tokyo on Thursday. “The truth is that this is not a harmonious society. .. there are already many conflicts between the society and the government,” he added.

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