China makes major shift away from ‘zero Covid’ restrictions after protests

China announced a major step away from the strict “zero-Covid” controls that have constrained daily life for years after rare mass nationwide protests.

HONG KONG — China people with mild or asymptomatic cases of coronavirus will be allowed to stay at home. This is a significant departure from the strict “zero Covid” strategy that has restricted daily life for nearly three years and sparked rare nationwide protests.

According to the National Health Commission, those who are unable to leave their home will be monitored for health and released only after testing positive on the sixth and seventh day. It stated that anyone whose condition worsens will be taken to a hospital designated for treatment.

People who had tested positive for the virus in the past were sent to central quarantine facilities, regardless of severity. People who don’t wish to be isolated at home will still have access to these facilities.

A green “health code” and proof of a negative test by the National Health Commission were also removed from venues. This excludes places such as nursing homes, child care institutions, primary and secondary schools, and other facilities like medical facilities and child care institutions. Many cities required negative tests to be positive in order for them to shop at malls and take public transport.

Wednesday’s announcement is the latest in a series of restrictions being eased after protestors in cities across the country demanded an end the “zero-Covid” strategy that made China an exception among the major economies.

Officials defended the policy, saying it was necessary to save lives in a country that is vulnerable to uncontrolled outbreaks. They had already started to ease restrictions prior to the protests, and announced 20 “optimized” measures on November 11.

Protests in China were the largest demonstration of unrest for decades and were swiftly quelled by the ruling Communist Party. Local officials have since relaxed lockdowns, testing requirements to address frustration with these restrictions. This has created an environment of anxiety and undercut the economy.

Sun Chunlan (the vice premier responsible for China’s pandemic response) said last week that China was in a “new situation” due to the virus becoming weaker. She stressed the need to improve treatment, prepare medical resources, and increase vaccinations, particularly among the elderly.

China reported 25115 new infections in China on Wednesday. More than 80 percent were asymptomatic.

Olivia Guan contributed.

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