China signals an easing in its COVID-19 policy following mass protests

Virus Outbreak China Party Congress
A man has his throat swabbed for a COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. As China’s ruling Communist Party holds a major congress this week, many Beijing residents are wondering if the end of the meeting will bring any easing of China’s draconian “zero-COVID” policies that are disrupting lives and the economy. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) Mark Schiefelbein/AP

China signals an easing in its COVID-19 policy following mass protests

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China signaled an easing in its zero-COVID-19 policy on Thursday, relaxing lockdown measures for districts in Shanghai and Guangzhou amid massive protests despite record documented COVID-19 cases.

China’s Guangzhou city relaxed many of its restrictions on Wednesday, with one official for the city’s Conghua district allowing students to return to in-classroom learning, according to Reuters. District officials in Haizhu, Baiyun, Fanyu, Tianhe, Huadu, and Liwan are also lifting temporary lockdowns. China’s top COVID-19 official told health officials that the country was facing a new stage regarding the virus, which he claimed was weakening.

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“With the decreasing toxicity of the omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate, and the accumulating experience of outbreak control and prevention, China’s pandemic containment faces [a] new stage and mission,” Sun Chunlan, China’s vice premier, said Wednesday. “The country is facing a new situation and new tasks in epidemic prevention and control as the pathogenicity of the omicron virus weakens, more people are vaccinated and experienced in containing the virus is accumulated.”

A community in Beijing has also eased restrictions, allowing cases with mild symptoms to isolate at home. Protocols earlier this year would have seen the entire complex or community locked down over one positive case. Shanghai and Chongqing also relaxed some of their rules.

Areas that are considered “high risk” will remain locked down.

Massive protests broke out around the country over the government’s COVID-19 policies. The protests stemmed from a fire that broke out in the western region of Xinjiang that killed 10 people last week. Some residents believe the country’s COVID-19 policy contributed to the death toll.

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China is facing record COVID-19 numbers, despite roughly 90% of its population being vaccinated. Wednesday saw 35,000 positive cases of the virus, but the number is a small fraction of China’s population of 1.4 billion. Just over 5,200 deaths in China have been attributed to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

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