BEIJING (AP) — In a sharp turnaround, China announced a series of measures rolling back some of its most draconian anti-COVID-19 restrictions, including limiting tough lockdowns and ordering schools with no known infections to resume classes. regular.
The National Health Commission, in a 10-point announcement on Wednesday, stipulated that COVID-19 tests and a healthy health check displayed on a smartphone app would no longer be necessary, except for vulnerable areas such as nurseries, aged care facilities and schools. It also limited the scale of the lockdown to individual floors and apartment buildings, rather than entire neighborhoods and neighborhoods.
People who test positive for the virus will be able to isolate themselves at home rather than in overcrowded and unsanitary field hospitals, and schools where there has been no outbreak must resume classroom teaching.
The announcement follows recent street protests in several cities over the strict ‘zero-COVID’ policy now entering its fourth year, which has been blamed for disrupting ordinary life, travel and living. employment while dealing a severe blow to the national economy.
China has sought to maintain the hard-line policy while keeping the world’s second-largest economy operating, but public frustration over the restrictions appears to have ultimately swayed the views of officials who had championed ‘zero-COVID’. as superior to the approach of foreign nations that have opened up in hopes of learning to live with the virus.
“Relevant departments in all localities still need to improve their policy positions … and resolutely correct the simplified ‘one size fits all’ approach,” the commission said in its statement posted on its website.
Officials, often those at the local level under intense pressure to prevent epidemics, must “oppose and overcome formalism and bureaucracy, and take strict and detailed measures to protect people’s safety and health to the maximum.” , and minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development,” the statement said.
New reported COVID-19 cases in China fell from a daily high of more than 40,000 in recent days to just 20,764 on Wednesday, with the vast majority of them asymptomatic.
Under the new measures, closures cannot last longer than five days unless new cases are discovered, restrictions will be lifted on the sale of cold medicines and vaccinations for the elderly will be stepped up.
Orders to suspend services to businesses and transport companies will be lifted and greater attention will be paid to public safety, with emergency exits no longer blocked due to lockdown orders.
Recent protests have included calls for the resignation of leader Xi Jinping. The protests began on November 25 after at least 10 people were killed in a fire at a building in Urumqi, in the northwest. Authorities have denied suggestions that firefighters or victims were blocked by locked doors or other virus checks. But the disaster became a hotbed of public frustration.
In its notice, the National Health Commission made no reference to the fire, protests or any official end to “zero-COVID”, which has been closely identified with Xi’s authority. The policy has kept most visitors from traveling to China and disrupted manufacturing and global trade.
For days, the authorities have been gradually rolling back the restrictions.
On Monday, commuters 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 and lifted most movement restrictions while maintaining restrictions on infected neighborhoods.
The government last week announced plans to vaccinate millions of people in their 70s and 80s, a condition for ending ‘zero-COVID’ restrictions.
Health experts and economists warn it will take until mid-2023 and possibly 2024 before vaccination rates are high enough and hospitals are ready to deal with a possible outbreak of infections.
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