China has announced nationwide relaxations to its draconian zero-COVID policy in the strongest indication so far that the country is readying its people to live with the disease three years into the coronavirus pandemic.
In a sharp rollback of some of the most stringent COVID-19 curbs, China's national health authority on Wednesday announced a string of measures.
Although the country is not abandoning its policy of attempting to eliminate the disease, the changes, such as allowing people with mild or no symptoms to quarantine at home and dropping travel testing, are a major shift.
What has been eased?
They changes include limiting the scale of lockdown to individual apartment floors and buildings, instead of entire districts and neighborhoods.
"Asymptomatic persons and mild cases can be isolated at home while strengthening health monitoring, and they can transfer to designated hospitals for treatment in a timely manner if their condition worsens," the National Health Commission said in a statement.
The relaxations come after large-scale protests across the country in recent weeks against the Chinese government's harsh COVID-19 policy.
As part of the new mandate, the frequency and extent of PCR testing — a key feature of life in zero-COVID China — will also be reduced.
"Mass PCR testing only carried out in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and high-risk work units; scope and frequency of PCR testing to be further reduced," the health authority added.
"People traveling across provinces do not need to provide a 48h test result and do not need to test upon arrival."
Beijing will also step up vaccination of the elderly, a condition for ending the no-tolerance COVID policy.
The Shanghai Disneyland theme park will reopen to visitors on Thursday, according to a statement issued by the park, which closed due to comply with COVID measures at the end of November.
Widespread protests nationwide
Last week, several cities in China had already loosened some COVID restrictions, following Beijing's cue after weeks of public frustration.
The rare protests, which started against the ruling Communist Party's zero-COVID approach, soon escalated with demonstrators calling for more political freedoms.
Some even demanded that President Xi Jinping resign.
The protests, that took place in major cities on the mainland, were met with a clampdown from the authorities.
China's strict coronavirus strategy has been blamed for upending normal life, travel and employment in the Asian nation where the virus first originated.
At first, China's strategy did keep case numbers and deaths very low by comparison with most other countries, despite its vast size and early exposure to the virus. However, the drawback, in a country whose available vaccines are not considered the best, was that this dramatically slowed the process of gradual public exposure to the virus.
With most people inoculated or exposed to the virus and the number of deaths as a share of the total COVID caseload slumping, most countries across the world have opened up in hopes of learning to live with the virus. But China had stuck to its "zero-Covid" strategy until now.
dvv/msh (AP, Reuters)