Protests push policy as ‘zero-Covid’ eased in mild cases

Certain Chinese cities have started to allow mild Covid patients to isolate at home instead of quarantine centers, a loosening of “zero-Covid” measures after protesters across the country rallied against the anti-epidemic measures. Key cities including Chongqing, Guangzhou and Beijing now allow infected elderly people and those who have chronic diseases or need special care to quarantine at home. Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said China’s Covid battle had entered a new stage with new tasks as the coronavirus turned less pathogenic. In her latest speech, Sun did not mention the zero-Covid policy that she was still promoting during a visit to Chongqing on November 27.  The People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, said in an article that prolonged lockdowns made people anxious and such problems had to be addressed. The question ahead is whether the loosening will continue or be reversed as caseloads rise. The number of infections in Beijing, the national capital, hit a record high of 5,043 on Wednesday, up from 4,522 recorded on Tuesday. CCP policymakers are between a viral rock and a hard policy place. Thousands of anti-lockdown protesters rallied in different cities beginning on Sunday to mourn 10 people who died in a fire in a building within a sealed-off area in Xinjiang on November 24. As of Tuesday, the protests had largely been suppressed as local governments deployed more police to the streets and national-level censors scrubbed social media posts on the unrest. Chinese protesters air their views on the government’s ‘zero-Covid’ restrictions. Image: Screengrab / BBC Vice Premier Sun said in a Beijing meeting with eight anti-epidemic experts on Wednesday that China would continue to optimize its Covid rules and perfect its medical and quarantine measures. “As the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus and the accumulation of our experience in epidemic control and prevention, our country is facing new situations and new tasks in the Covid battles,” said Sun. “We will continue to optimize our prevention and control policies, taking small steps continuously,” she said. She said the country would constantly improve diagnosis, testing, cure and quarantine measures, strengthen the immunization of the entire population, especially the elderly, and speed up the preparation of drug treatments and medical resources. She said China would implement the requirements of “preventing the epidemic, stabilizing the economy and developing safely.” Since Wednesday, many cities have announced their plans to reopen their low-risk areas and reduce PCR tests. The local government in Guangzhou, which recorded the highest number of infections among all cities, reopened 11 districts on Wednesday except some areas in Haizhu and Yuexiu districts. It also announced that close contacts of the infected and some mild patients could be isolated at home rather than at quarantine centers. The Chongqing government said it would strictly follow the 20-point notice, unveiled by the central government on November 11, to ease its anti-epidemic rules and define close contacts accurately and in a timely manner. “Specific groups, including those with serious underlying medical conditions such as pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, pregnant women and breastfeeding women, can now quarantine at home,” said Li Pan, deputy director of the Chongqing Health Commission. “People who are quarantined at home need to promise the community that they will strictly follow the requirements, and medical workers will monitor the health condition of family members regularly,” he added. Several districts in Beijing announced that those who work and study from home, as well as the elderly and infants, could skip daily PCR tests to avoid forming crowds on the streets. Covid testing in Chengdu. Image: Screengrab / BBC News Media reports said the Chinese capital was also mulling whether to allow mild patients to quarantine at home. Sources told Bloomberg that those allowed to isolate themselves at home must sign a letter promising that they would stay home and install a detector on their doors. On Thursday, the People’s Daily published an article entitled “To start and end lockdowns quickly” that criticized some local governments for increasing their lockdown periods and coverage areas without heeding the people’s demands. Citing the recent quotes from Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission, the article said prolonged lockdowns not only disrupted people’s normal activities but also made people feel anxious and that such problems had to be addressed and resolved. A commentary published by the state-run Xinhua News Agency also said local officials would now be appraised for their ability to “start and end lockdowns quickly.” Local officials have previously imposed harsh lockdowns out of fears they would be reprimanded by Beijing if outbreaks spr

Protests push policy as ‘zero-Covid’ eased in mild cases

Certain Chinese cities have started to allow mild Covid patients to isolate at home instead of quarantine centers, a loosening of “zero-Covid” measures after protesters across the country rallied against the anti-epidemic measures.

Key cities including Chongqing, Guangzhou and Beijing now allow infected elderly people and those who have chronic diseases or need special care to quarantine at home.

Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said China’s Covid battle had entered a new stage with new tasks as the coronavirus turned less pathogenic. In her latest speech, Sun did not mention the zero-Covid policy that she was still promoting during a visit to Chongqing on November 27. 

The People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, said in an article that prolonged lockdowns made people anxious and such problems had to be addressed. The question ahead is whether the loosening will continue or be reversed as caseloads rise.

The number of infections in Beijing, the national capital, hit a record high of 5,043 on Wednesday, up from 4,522 recorded on Tuesday. CCP policymakers are between a viral rock and a hard policy place.

Thousands of anti-lockdown protesters rallied in different cities beginning on Sunday to mourn 10 people who died in a fire in a building within a sealed-off area in Xinjiang on November 24.

As of Tuesday, the protests had largely been suppressed as local governments deployed more police to the streets and national-level censors scrubbed social media posts on the unrest.

Chinese protesters air their views on the government’s ‘zero-Covid’ restrictions. Image: Screengrab / BBC

Vice Premier Sun said in a Beijing meeting with eight anti-epidemic experts on Wednesday that China would continue to optimize its Covid rules and perfect its medical and quarantine measures.

“As the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus and the accumulation of our experience in epidemic control and prevention, our country is facing new situations and new tasks in the Covid battles,” said Sun.

“We will continue to optimize our prevention and control policies, taking small steps continuously,” she said.

She said the country would constantly improve diagnosis, testing, cure and quarantine measures, strengthen the immunization of the entire population, especially the elderly, and speed up the preparation of drug treatments and medical resources.

She said China would implement the requirements of “preventing the epidemic, stabilizing the economy and developing safely.”

Since Wednesday, many cities have announced their plans to reopen their low-risk areas and reduce PCR tests.

The local government in Guangzhou, which recorded the highest number of infections among all cities, reopened 11 districts on Wednesday except some areas in Haizhu and Yuexiu districts. It also announced that close contacts of the infected and some mild patients could be isolated at home rather than at quarantine centers.

The Chongqing government said it would strictly follow the 20-point notice, unveiled by the central government on November 11, to ease its anti-epidemic rules and define close contacts accurately and in a timely manner.

“Specific groups, including those with serious underlying medical conditions such as pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, pregnant women and breastfeeding women, can now quarantine at home,” said Li Pan, deputy director of the Chongqing Health Commission.

“People who are quarantined at home need to promise the community that they will strictly follow the requirements, and medical workers will monitor the health condition of family members regularly,” he added.

Several districts in Beijing announced that those who work and study from home, as well as the elderly and infants, could skip daily PCR tests to avoid forming crowds on the streets.

Covid testing in Chengdu. Image: Screengrab / BBC News

Media reports said the Chinese capital was also mulling whether to allow mild patients to quarantine at home. Sources told Bloomberg that those allowed to isolate themselves at home must sign a letter promising that they would stay home and install a detector on their doors.

On Thursday, the People’s Daily published an article entitled “To start and end lockdowns quickly” that criticized some local governments for increasing their lockdown periods and coverage areas without heeding the people’s demands.

Citing the recent quotes from Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission, the article said prolonged lockdowns not only disrupted people’s normal activities but also made people feel anxious and that such problems had to be addressed and resolved.

A commentary published by the state-run Xinhua News Agency also said local officials would now be appraised for their ability to “start and end lockdowns quickly.” Local officials have previously imposed harsh lockdowns out of fears they would be reprimanded by Beijing if outbreaks spread uncontrollably in their areas, independent news reports said.

China recorded a total of 35,800 Covid cases, including 31,720 asymptomatic infections, on Wednesday. No deaths were reported.

Chong Yutian, a professor of the Third Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, said China should not end all its epidemic rules as many elderly people were still unvaccinated while many others had to receive regular booster shots to maintain immunity. 

He said people should stay vigilant to epidemic rules, reduce social activities and always wear masks when leaving home. 

Read: China’s Covid protest blame game fingers foreign powers

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3