Dynamic Zero-Covid

China’s looser measures met with relief, caution

A day after China announced the rollback of some of its most stringent COVID-19 restrictions, people across the country are greeting the news with a measure of relief but also caution, as many wait to see how the new approach will be implemented.

Following nationwide protests last month against China’s harsh anti-pandemic policies, the government announced Wednesday it was easing some of the strictest measures. Among the most significant changes is that people who test positive for COVID-19 but show no symptoms, or only mild symptoms, can now stay at home rather than being forced into a government field hospital.

Online, government ministries and hospitals are already switching their messaging about how to deal with COVID-19 at home if one gets sick, marking an abrupt 180-degree turn from its policy before Wednesday, when it required all who tested positive to be taken to a government field hospital, a temporary facility built to treat COVID-19 patients.

A team working for a prominent government doctor, Zhang Wenhong, put out a lengthy explainer yesterday on the virus, emphasizing the vast majority of cases won’t require hospitalization and noting that the virus is here to stay.

“The past three years have made us not want to come in contact with the virus … but actually in human society, there are thousands of microorganisms,” the team at Huashan hospital in Shanghai wrote. “Inadvertently, every year we will get sick briefly because we’ve been infected by several of these.”

Still, experts were careful to emphasize this was not the end of COVID-19 containment.

“It is not that we are going to lie flat. Precision prevention must be still adhered to,” said Yu Changping, a doctor in the department of respiratory medicine in the People’s Hospital of Wuhan University. “The opening is an irreversible trend in the future because most people have been vaccinated and there has been a lower number of serious illnesses.”

Outside experts warned that China will face a challenging first wave, as the loosened measures will likely lead to more infections among a population with little immunity against the virus.

“Every country in experiencing their first wave will face chaos, especially in medical capacity, and a squeeze on medical resources,” said Wang Pi-sheng, Taiwan’s head of COVID-19 response, yesterday. Wang said Taiwanese living in China could come home for medical treatment, especially if they’re elderly or at high risk.

In Guangzhou, a metropolis in southern China that had seen rising case numbers the past few weeks, measures have been relaxed in recent days, which came as a relief to Jenny Jian, a 28-year-old resident.

“On my way to the gym today, I didn’t have to scan the health code at all,” she said, referring to the QR codes that people have been required to display to show whether they have COVID-19 or are a close contact. “It was implemented very quickly. But policy is one thing. The main thing is to see what the experience is when I step out the door.”

In Chongqing, another metropolis with rising infections, people were rushing to buy cold medicines. In Beijing, some pharmacies ran out of common cold medications, facing the same demand.

City residents in Chongqing who need PCR tests for work are now facing long lines after neighborhood PCR testing points shut down last week amid the relaxation of measures.

Many are cautious about whether the restrictions will stop completely and if new measures will be carried out properly.

“All the policies are there, but when it gets to the local level, when it gets to the sub-district level, your neighborhood, it’s a complete mess,” said 65-year-old Yang Guangwei, a retiree who lives in Beijing. Yang said many people are dissatisfied with the way national-level policies have been carried out in their neighborhoods.

The new measures also mandate fewer PCR tests, noting the tests must be targeted at those in high-risk industries and not entire districts. At the height of some lockdowns, many cities carried out PCR tests daily. In recent months, Beijing and Shanghai residents had to take a PCR test every two or three days just to be able to go around the city.

One Beijing resident who only gave his family name, Qian, out of concern for discussing government policy, said that those who needed to get tested will still do so.

“They say don’t test, but the workplace still requires it. That’s contradictory,” Qian said of his own experience.

Underneath the official announcement of rollbacks by state broadcaster CCTV, social media users also expressed skepticism.

“Can colleges be normal again? Can they be unsealed?” read one comment with 37,000 likes.

Some asked whether certain cities would get rid of their quarantine-upon-arrival measures, as mandated in the national policies announced yesterday.

Others were more positive.

“I haven’t traveled in so long!” a user wrote on Weibo.  HUIZHONG WU, MDT/AP


Relaxed ‘zero-Covid’ brings big changes

In a move that caught many by surprise, China announced a potentially major easing of its rigid “zero-COVID” restrictions, without formally abandoning the policy altogether.

It’s not clear what exactly prompted the move, although it follows the largest show of public dissent against the ruling Communist Party in more than 30 years by residents fed up with constant testing, quarantines, travel restrictions, rolling lockdowns and business closures.

Here’s a look at the changes known as the “New Ten Requirements” announced on Wednesday.


Among the most significant changes is one that allows people who test positive for COVID-19 but show no or only mild symptoms to recuperate at home rather than being forced into one of the government field hospitals that have become notorious for overcrowding, lights that stay on 24 hours and poor food and hygiene.

Where cases are discovered, lockdowns will be limited to specific apartment floors or buildings. Before, such lockdowns would encompass entire communities, districts and even cities. Widespread lockdowns were a significant factor behind protests in the spring in Shanghai and other cities.

Authorities have reduced the requirement to produce a “health code” on a smartphone app that tracks virus testing and the user’s proximity to areas deemed at high risk of infection and shows test results.

Health codes will still be required for “special places,” including schools, hospitals and nursing homes. That leaves considerable ambiguity.


Other relaxations are more subtle but still significant, like the length of lockdowns, which can only last five days if no new cases are detected. That’s a major change from the open-ended lockdowns that could drag on for weeks and leave residents with no information or ability to plan ahead.

Restrictions on the sale of cold and cough medicine are also being lifted. During the height of the pandemic, such over-the-counter medications could only be purchased through a lengthy application process. While never clearly explained, the rules were thought to be aimed at those trying to cover up COVID-19 symptoms to avoid being tested and sent to quarantine. Just visiting a pharmacy risked triggering the health code smartphone app, resulting in a visit from hazmat-attired health authorities and police.

More emphasis is also being placed on providing the elderly with vaccines and booster shots, and a greater focus will be placed on members of the population who suffer from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other underlying factors that can increase vulnerability to COVID-19.

Local governments are also barred from suspending business and public transportation in areas not considered at risk. They are also forbidden from blocking fire exits — an apparent reference to the apartment fire in the western city of Urumqi last month that helped set off the street protests. In theory, that would prevent some of the more extreme measures taken to block people into their homes, like locking their doors from the outside, welding steel bars across passages and fencing in entire communities.

Schools without cases will be required to return to in-person classes, and emergency patients who do not have a recent negative test can no longer be barred from hospitals.


The new measures will likely take some time to be implemented and leave considerable wiggle room to keep some restrictions in place. Communities whose health care resources are barely adequate at the best of times will likely be the last to drop what they see as the last line of defense against potentially overwhelming outbreaks. MDT/AP

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