BEIJING: A patchwork easing of the world’s toughest COVID-19 curbs sowed confusion across China on Monday (Dec 5), spurring hopes for more clarity as officials shift the tone on the dangers posed by COVID-19 in the wake of last month’s unprecedented protests.
Three years into the pandemic, China’s zero-tolerance measures, from shutting its borders to stifling lockdowns, provide a stark contrast with the rest of the world, which has largely opened up in its efforts to live with the virus.
The strict approach has battered the world’s second-largest economy, put a mental strain on hundreds of millions and last month prompted the biggest show of public discontent in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
Although the protests largely petered out amid a heavy police presence across major cities, in their wake numerous regional authorities have announced some relaxations of lockdowns, quarantine rules and testing requirements.
Daily tallies of new COVID-19 infections have also dropped in some regions as authorities row back on testing.
“The information at this stage will be a bit chaotic,” commentator Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, said on Weibo on Sunday, flagging the risk that fewer tests could skew infection figures.
China is soon set to announce a nationwide easing of testing requirements as well as allowing positive cases and close contacts to isolate at home under certain conditions, people familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.
But until then, a lack of clarity has left some scared of being caught on the wrong side of fast-changing rules.
Yin, a resident of a small city near Beijing, the capital, said her in-laws had come down with a fever and she herself now had a sore throat, but they did not want to be tested.
She added that they feared the risk of being thrown into government quarantine facilities, described by many as shoddily built and unhygienic.
“All we want is to recover at home, by ourselves,” she told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Alongside the easing of local curbs, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID-19 efforts, said last week the ability of the virus to cause disease was weakening.
That change in messaging aligns with the position adopted by many health authorities around the world for more than a year.
As the virus weakens, conditions are improving for China to scale back management of COVID-19 as a serious contagious disease, state media outlet Yicai said late on Sunday, in comments that are among the first to float the idea.
Since Jan 2020, China has classified COVID-19 as a Category B infectious disease but has managed it under Category A protocols, giving authorities the power to put patients and their close contacts into quarantine and lockdown regions.