The origin of coronavirus that is struggling to deal with its mutants, China rolled back its tough Covid rules today after the restrictions sparked popular unrest and hammered the world’s second-largest economy. “Beijing readies itself for life again,” read a headline in the government-owned China Daily newspaper, adding that people were “gradually embracing” newfound freedoms.
Residents of the capital of China were allowed into parks, supermarkets, offices and airports without a negative Covid-19 test on Tuesday, the latest in a mix of easing steps nationwide after unprecedented protests against a tough zero-Covid policy.
Following are some of the major changes announced by Beijing’s National Health Commission:
China changes home quarantine locations
People infected with Covid but with mild or no symptoms can now isolate at home rather than in state-managed facilities.
This is a reversal of earlier rules, where all infected patients and their close contacts were sent to hospitals or hastily-built isolation centres.
Occupants have complained about grim conditions in many of these facilities — from bad food to a lack of running water.
Residents can now also buy fever and cold medicines without restrictions, where previously they were forced into fever clinics where they were screened for Covid.
Did you miss this? Coronavirus: China’s Mischievous Warhead
China has shorter lockdowns
Snap lockdowns must be applied to more precisely identified areas, including specific buildings, units and floors, instead of shutting down entire neighbourhoods or imposing city-wide lockdowns, the new rules say.
They must also be lifted if no new cases are found for five consecutive days.
The move represents a marked departure from previous rules, which saw millions locked down for months.
Schools must remain open if there is no wider campus outbreak.
The new guidelines also ban the blocking of fire exits and doors by officials, after 10 people perished in a blaze in a sealed building in northwest China’s Urumqi, sparking nationwide protests.
Virus controls must also not prevent people from accessing emergency medical treatment, it added, after a string of deaths tied to hospitals turning down patients without negative Covid tests.
No more mass testing
Officials have also scrapped the need for frequent mass testing, saying only “employees in high-risk positions” such as healthcare workers and delivery staff — as well as those in “high-risk” areas — will need to take regular tests.
But companies are still permitted to ask workers to produce test results — meaning testing is far from gone from daily life in China.
Most cities previously also required residents to have a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours to ride public transport or even enter a public park — rules that no longer apply.
Residents are now also allowed to travel between provinces without a 48-hour test result and will not be asked to test again at their destination.
That shift is expected to boost China’s struggling domestic travel industry, hit hard since the onset of the pandemic in late 2019.
Scrapping ‘health codes’
The Chinese public is no longer required to show a green health code on their phone to enter public buildings and spaces, except for “nursing homes, medical institutions, kindergartens, middle and high schools.”
The widespread use of health codes tracking citizens’ whereabouts has raised concerns over privacy, official abuse and data theft.
Five officials in central China’s Zhengzhou city were punished in June for deliberately turning thousands of citizens’ health codes red to stop them from protesting against a banking scandal.
Despite the changes, China’s borders remain largely closed, with inbound travellers still required to quarantine for a week.
With inputs from Agence France Press and Reuters