The move follows the government’s snap announcement last week that it was ending many of the most draconian measures. That follows three years of lockdowns, travel restrictions and quarantines on those moving between provinces and cities, mandated testing, and requirements that a clean bill of health is shown to access public areas.
Last month in Beijing and several other cities, protests over the restrictions grew into calls for leader Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party to step down, in a level of public political expression not seen in decades. While met with relief, the relaxation has also sparked concerns about a new wave of infections potentially overwhelming healthcare resources in some areas.
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Xi’s government is still officially committed to stopping virus transmission, the last major country to try. But the latest moves suggest the party will tolerate more cases without quarantines or shutting down travel or businesses as it winds down its “zero-COVID” strategy.
Facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, China is setting up more intensive care facilities and trying to strengthen hospitals’ ability to deal with severe cases. At the same time, the government reversed course by allowing those with mild symptoms to recuperate at home rather than being sent to field hospitals that have become notorious for overcrowding and poor hygiene.
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Reports on the Chinese internet, which is tightly controlled by the government, sought to reassure a nervous public, stating that restrictions would continue to be dropped and travel, indoor dining and other economic activity would soon be returning to pre-pandemic conditions. China’s leaders had long praised “zero-COVID” for keeping the numbers of cases and deaths much lower than in other nations, but health officials are now saying the most prevalent omicron variety poses much less of a risk.
Amid a sharp drop in the amount of testing, China on Monday announced only around 8,500 new cases, bringing the nation’s total to 365,312 -more than double the level since Oct. 1, with 5,235 deaths. That compares to 1.1 million COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
Protests erupted on Nov. 25 after 10 people died in a fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi. Many believed COVID-19 restrictions may have impeded rescue efforts. Authorities denied the claims spread online, but demonstrators gave voice to longstanding frustration in cities such as Shanghai that have endured severe lockdowns. The party responded with a massive show of force and an unknown number of people were arrested at the protests or in the days following.
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