Several Chinese cities further eased draconian anti-Covid rules on Friday, with President Xi Jinping arguing that the less deadly Omicron variant of the virus allows “more flexibility” in restrictions.
The demonstrations of the last few days to demand an end to the restrictions are explained by the fact that “people were frustrated“After three years of epidemic, also explained Xi Jinping to the President of the European Council Charles Michel, during an interview Thursday in Beijing, according to a European official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Charles Michel, who represents the 27 EU member states, was visiting Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday, where he met the Chinese president.
Mr. Xi justified the easing of the anti-Covid policy, stressing that from now on, the variant of the “Covid in China is mostly Omicron, less lethal, which opens the way for more flexibility in restrictions”according to the European official.
The anger of the Chinese towards the hard line health in the fight against the Covid-19 had overflowed in the streets last weekend, a mobilization of an unprecedented scale for decades.
China reacted quickly to stifle the movement, with a heavy police presence on the streets and increased surveillance of social networks.
At the same time, several cities have begun to ease restrictions, such as abandoning mass daily testing, a tedious pillar of life under the “zero-Covid” reign, in place for nearly three years.
This did not prevent sporadic scuffles.
Anyone who tests positive in China must in theory be placed in a quarantine center, with variable comfort. But a radical change in doctrine seems to be at work.
Quarantine at home
In an analysis published Friday by the People’s Daily, organ of the ruling Communist Party, several medical experts support the measures taken by some local authorities to authorize this quarantine at home.
Officials from some neighborhoods in Beijing’s Chaoyang district said the measure is now being applied in their area.
The industrial city of Dongguan (south) announced Thursday that people filling out “specific conditions” will be able to quarantine at home – without detailing these conditions.
The technology megalopolis of Shenzhen (south) has applied a similar policy since Wednesday.
At the national level, members of the government have also signaled that a broader relaxation of the policy could be envisaged.
On Wednesday, before the Ministry of Health, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan acknowledged the low dangerousness of Omicron variants and the improvement in the vaccination rate. A central figure in China’s strategy in the face of the epidemic, Ms. Sun did not mention the term “zero Covid”, raising hopes that this strategy would soon be relaxed.
From Monday, Beijingers will again be able to take the bus and subway without having to present a negative PCR test result dating back less than 48 hours, the town hall announced on Friday.
Users will however have to continue to present a health pass to the green, confirming that they have not crossed a “high risk” zone.
The same measure has been in place since Friday in Chengdu (southwest).
Hotels and restaurants
Also in Beijing, health authorities on Thursday called on hospitals to stop refusing care in the absence of a PCR test within 48 hours.
China has seen a series of deaths, when care or relief has been delayed by strict anti-Covid measures.
In January, a pregnant woman in Xi’an (north) had lost her baby, after the hospital refused to take care of her for lack of a valid PCR test.
These deaths have been a rallying cry during the protests, with a post going viral listing the cases of all those who have died due to neglect related to health restrictions.
Many other cities, however affected by an upsurge in coronavirus cases, are now allowing the reopening of restaurants, shopping centers and even schools, deviating from the confinement rules that have prevailed so far.
In the city of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region (northwest), where a fatal fire had triggered the first demonstrations, the authorities announced on Friday that supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts would be gradually reopened.
This city of more than four million people has suffered one of the longest confinements in China. The fire in an apartment building on November 26 killed 10 people there. The restrictions have been blamed for delaying relief.