More cities in China relax Covid rules amid fear of rise in infections

Published on Dec 04, 2022 05:50 PM IST

Shanghai, which went through its worst Covid outbreak and a hard lockdown earlier this year, will no longer require passengers to hold a negative nucleic acid test result to take public transportation including buses and subways from Monday

People wearing masks walk through a reopened open air shopping mall in Beijing, China, on Sunday. (AP)
People wearing masks walk through a reopened open air shopping mall in Beijing, China, on Sunday. (AP)

Beijing: China’s abrupt U-turn to ease stringent Covid curbs continued on Sunday as it relaxed more restrictions in cities including in Shanghai amid fears of a surge in Covid-19 infections as negative test requirements are slackened for accessing public transport and spaces across the country.

Shanghai, which went through its worst Covid outbreak and a hard lockdown earlier this year, will no longer require passengers to hold a negative nucleic acid test result to take public transportation including buses and subways from Monday.

“The same rule is also applied to the entries of public outdoor spaces such as parks,” the local government announced on Sunday, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.

Shanghai joins other populous cities like Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Tianjin in easing ‘zero-Covid’-related restrictions, a week after citizens came out to the streets, protesting against the strategy in a rare show of widespread public discontent.

The local government of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang in China’s remote northwest, announced on Sunday that markets, restaurants and malls in the city will reopen from Monday, marking the end of nearly 100 days of lockdown.

It was in Urumqi that protests against the “zero-Covid” policy first erupted last weekend after 10 people died in a fire in a Covid-restricted high-rise building on November 26.

The Chinese government has termed the rollback “optimisation” of Covid-19 prevention and control measures as the country gradually shifts from the ‘zero-Covid’ strategy, which had upended lives and impacted the economy, to a more flexible approach.

“At least 10 major Chinese cities have announced the ending of requirements for the checking of 48-hour valid Covid-19 test results for riding public transport,” the state-run tabloid, Global Times reported.

The sudden changes have fuelled confusion among the people about the new rules with many wondering whether nucleic acid tests or mandatory checking of health kits - a digital kit on mobile phones - had been totally done away with.

The Beijing government had to issue a statement on Saturday evening to quash rumours, which claimed all curbs were being scrapped.

The local government statement said that the city remains on high alert because of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in the city, which has recorded over 2,500 cases daily for days now; at 5,006 the city’s highest ever daily caseload was recorded last week.

Beijing officials are now using the phrase “be the first person responsible for your own health”, urging citizens to be alert about the outbreak even as top-down curbs are gradually lifted.

Beijing and the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou have also “...spared home-bound residents from Covid testing, while Chongqing and Shenzhen have largely cut back on mass testing,” reported the Caixin news website.

“The capital has also allowed those who don’t have a negative nucleic acid test result obtained within 48 hours to enter hospitals, although they must still take a rapid antigen test once inside,” the report said.

Experts have warned about a surge in cases in the days ahead because of the opening up.

“Cases and deaths will eventually surge and I don’t think there’s anything that could have been done to entirely prevent that all together. But still, I think there was a policy failure,” Katherine Mason, Associate Professor Anthropology, Brown University, said.

“The big mistake, in my view, is that the government missed its opportunity to capitalise on all the time they bought to make necessary preparations for an inevitable surge when Covid finally became impossible to contain,” Mason said, adding: “I don’t think it’s too late to do that, but they’ve (Chinese government) made it unnecessarily harder for themselves”.

China reported 31,824 new Covid-19 infections and two new deaths on Sunday for the day before, the national health commission said in its daily bulletin. The fall in China’s infection caseload could be because fewer people are now testing for the infection.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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