China Signals Shift Away From 'Zero COVID' Policy

Country faces 'new stage and mission' in pandemic fight, top official says
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2022 8:07 AM CST
After Protests, China Eases Some COVID Restrictions
Residents stand in line for their routine COVID-19 tests near the site of last weekend's protest in Beijing, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.   (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Chinese authorities have vowed to "resolutely crack down" on protests against the country's harsh "zero COVID" policies—but they also appear to be moving away from those same policies, despite rising case numbers. Dozens of districts in Shanghai and Guangzhou have been released from lockdown measures and vice-premier Sun Chunlan says the country is facing a "new situation," the BBC reports. "With the decreasing pathogenicity of the Omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate, and the accumulating experience of outbreak control and prevention, China’s pandemic containment faces a new stage and mission," Sun told health officials Wednesday, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

In the coming days, the central government plans to announce measures including a reduction of mass testing and a shift to allow some people who test positive and their close contacts to isolate at home instead of in centralized quarantine facilities, sources tell Reuters. The AP reports that several major cities have already eased testing requirements and restrictions on movement. Analysts at the Nomura bank said that Sun's remarks, "in addition to the notable easing of COVID control measures in Guangzhou ... sends yet another strong signal that the zero COVID policy will end within the next few months." The two events, they said, "perhaps point to the beginning of the end of zero COVID."

None of the announcements easing measures mentioned the widespread protests over the zero COVID policy, and censors are cracking down hard on any mention of the demonstrations online. People have complained on social media that police are stopping people at random and checking their smartphones, the AP reports. Authorities have blamed the protests on foreign forces and warned that they will take firm action against "infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces as well as on illegal or criminal acts that disrupt social order," reports the Washington Post. (Read more China stories.)

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