By Brenda Goh
SHANGHAI (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Beijing residents cheered the removal of COVID-19 testing booths on Saturday, while Shenzhen said it would no longer require commuters to submit test results to travel as the virus limits easing in China it has taken hold.
Though daily cases are near all-time highs, some cities are taking steps to ease COVID testing requirements and quarantine rules as China looks to make its zero-COVID policy more targeted amid a steep economic slowdown and frustration public which escalated into riots.
The southern city of Shenzhen has announced it will no longer require people to show a negative COVID test result to use public transport or enter parks, following similar moves by Chengdu and Tianjin.
Many testing booths in Beijing have been shut down, as the capital stops asking for negative test results as a condition of entering places like supermarkets and prepares to do so for subways from Monday. Many other locations, including offices, still require testing.
A video showing workers in Beijing removing a test booth with a crane on a truck went viral on Chinese social media on Friday.
“This should have been taken away sooner!” said one commenter. “Banned to history,” said another.
RockedBuzz via Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage. At some of the remaining stands, however, residents complained of hour-long queues for testing due to the closures.
Three years after COVID emerged in central China, the nation has been a global outlier with a zero-tolerance approach to frequent lockdowns and testing. Authorities say the measures are necessary to save lives and avoid overloading China’s healthcare system.
China began tweaking its approach last month, urging locations to become more targeted. Initial reactions, however, were marked by confusion and even stricter lockdowns as cities scrambled to get the surging cases under control.
Then a deadly apartment fire last month in the far western city of Urumqi sparked dozens of COVID curb protests in more than 20 cities in an unprecedented surge in mainland China since President Xi Jinping seized power in 2012.
Authorities arrested several people who participated in the protests, and police in cities like Shanghai checked commuters’ phones for virtual private network apps or software that protesters used to communicate, according to protesters and social media posts.
Police maintained a strong presence around the Liangmaqiao Interchange east of Beijing on Saturday as authorities sought to defer any potential follow-up to last weekend’s unrest.
An equally large police presence was seen on streets near Shanghai’s Wulumuqi Road, which is named after Urumqi and was the site of a vigil for fire victims that turned into protests last weekend.
FURTHER REDUCTIONS COMING SOON
China is set to announce further relaxation of testing requirements nationwide, as well as allowing positive cases and close contacts to self-isolate at home under certain conditions, people familiar with the matter told RockedBuzz via Reuters this week.
Xi blamed the mass protests on young people frustrated by years of pandemic, but said the now dominant Omicron variant of the virus had paved the way for less restrictions during a meeting with European Union officials in Beijing on Thursday. , EU officials said.
Officials have only recently begun to downplay Omicron’s dangers, a significant shift in messaging in a country where COVID fear runs deep.
On Friday, some Beijing neighborhoods posted guidelines on social media about how positive cases can be quarantined at home, a historic move that marks a break with official guidelines for sending such people to central quarantine.
However, the relief has also been accompanied by concerns, especially on the part of people who feel more exposed to the disease.
Many analysts say they don’t yet expect a meaningful reopening until at least after March, as China first needs to get results on a newly launched vaccination campaign targeting the elderly.
Estimates of how many deaths China could see if it moves towards a full reopening ranged from 1.3 million to more than 2 million, though some researchers have said the death toll could be slashed sharply if a focus is placed on vaccination.
“None of this should be interpreted as a fundamental departure from the zero-COVID policy, but rather an effort to make it leaner and less costly. The goal is still to get cases back close to zero,” Capital Economics said in a statement. a note. , referring to the recent fine-tuning of the policy.
“The alternative of letting the virus spread widely before more elderly people are vaccinated and healthcare capacity is increased would result in a higher death rate than many Asian countries that have reopened previously, undermining success zero-COVID China,” they said.
China reported 32,827 daily local COVID-19 infections on Saturday, down from 34,772 a day earlier. As of Friday, China has reported 5,233 COVID-related deaths and 331,952 cases with symptoms.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Liz Lee and Martin Pollard in Beijing and Engen Tham in Shanghai; Editing by William)