China moves to relax ‘zero Covid’ rules after wave of nationwide protests

HONG KONG — Chinese authorities are taking action to ease strict “zero Covid” controls in a clear response to the wave of nationwide protests that have otherwise been suppressed.

As the coronavirus weakens, China faces “a new situation and new tasks” in epidemic prevention and control, according to the report of China’s state news agency Xinhua.

During a meeting with National Health Commission experts on Wednesday, Sun stressed the importance of improving treatment measures, making medicines and other medical resources available, and increasing vaccinations, especially among the elderly population.

Security guards in a locked neighborhood in Beijing on Wednesday. The Chinese government has taken action to loosen some restrictions.Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

Specifically, Sun did not mention President Xi Jinping’s “dynamic zero Covid” policy that has guided China’s pandemic response and puts China at an outlier among the world’s major economies, all of which have lifted most of the Covid restrictions.

Although Chinese officials announced the easing of Covid measures last month, they say strict controls are in place to save lives in a population that has been barely exposed to the virus, under-vaccinated. In recent weeks, outbreaks caused by the highly contagious omicron variant have forced millions of people into their homes.

Quarantines are being lifted in more and more places, including the capital, Beijing, which reported a record 5,043 new infections on Thursday. rose from 1,648 a week ago. Local officials said Wednesday that people who do not need to leave the house, such as the elderly and remote workers, will be exempted from mass testing.

Claire Han, a Beijing resident, said the general guidelines are still strict, as restaurants are banned from serving food and most venues require a PCR test from the last 48 hours to enter.

“The current policy is confusing and unclear. I’m not sure if it will get better or worse, 41-year-old Han told NBC News on Thursday. “My friends and I stocked up on a lot of food at home in case the policy gets stricter again.”

Khan added: “Some local governments seem willing to listen and even respond to our needs, but general government officials have shown no such signs.”

Relaxation was also announced in major cities such as Guangzhou, Zhengzhou and Chongqing. While the Covid unrest in Guangzhou began in mid-November and continued into Tuesday night, Zhengzhou was the site of protests by workers at the world’s largest iPhone factory last week.

Government announcements this week on the easing of restrictions made no mention of the protests, with crowds demanding an end to Covid rules that they say have contributed to a deadly fire in the West Xinjiang region that has erupted across China in recent days. Some protesters have gone even further, calling for democratic reforms and even Xi’s resignation, in a show of defiance not seen since he took power in 2012.

Image: Protest Against China's Covid Measures in Beijing
Police cordoned off during a protest in Beijing on Monday against China’s strict “zero Covid” measures.Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

The Chinese authorities mostly suppressed the protests with a heavy police presence at the protesters’ former gathering places. But experts have suggested that protesters may find a new focus in former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, whose death at the age of 96 on Wednesday sparked a wave of nostalgia among people who associate him with relatively greater freedom than Xi.

Jiang came to power soon after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and led China during a decade of violent economic growth. A state funeral will be held for him at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing next Tuesday, with Xi chairing the funeral committee, state media reported on Thursday.

Like other Chinese leaders, Jiang showed little tolerance for dissent, imprisoning activists and banning the Falun Gong religious movement. But the political environment under Xi has greatly tightened, prompting some people in China to reevaluate Jiang’s legacy.

“Now they’ve pushed people to the brink, I think ‘Frog’ isn’t that bad,” Umi Yang, 20, from Beijing, told NBC News on Wednesday, using a nickname derived from Jiang. from brand glasses.

Commenters have expressed similar sentiment online, where frog references and images have been censored.

“I was born in the 1990s,” wrote one user on the social media platform Weibo. “I can’t remember exactly what I did as a kid, but I remember the color being bright, free and comfortable. RIP Grandpa Jiang.”

Dawn Liu, Eric Baculinao, Hannah Lee, Dorothy Cam and Jace Zhang contributed.

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