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China set to ease Covid rules after protests

China appears likely to relax some of its strict ‘zero-Covid’ rules after rare protests in several cities last weekend called for an end to strict Covid curbs, a senior Chinese official’s comments and reports indicated on Thursday.

Vice-premier Sun Chunlan, the senior-most Chinese official overseeing Covid-control strategies, said the country’s battle against Covid-19 “requires a new approach as the Omicron variant becomes less pathogenic, more people get vaccinated and experience is gained in controlling the virus,” according to official news agency, Xinhua.

She made the comments during a meeting of national health officials on Wednesday, the Xinhua report said.

Sun’s remarks come against the backdrop of the worst ongoing country-wide Covid outbreak, which has hit some of the country’s largest cities including Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing.

The country-wide daily caseload has stayed above the 30,000-mark for nearly a week now.

Sun is the highest official in charge of Covid-controls to acknowledge that the Omicron variant is less virulent, a significant change in the official position, suggesting a more flexible set of restrictions could be implemented in the coming days.

Sun was quoted by Xinhua as saying that “optimisation” of Covid-19 control rules would continue.

“With the people at the centre, prevention and control work must steadily progress, policies continue to be optimised in small steps but without stopping,” she said.

“We believe Sun’s speech, in addition to the notable easing of Covid control measures in Guangzhou yesterday, sends yet another strong signal that the zero-Covid policy will end within the next few months,” CNBC quoted brokerage Nomura’s Chief China Economist Ting Lu and a team, as saying in a report on Thursday.

Despite reporting thousands of daily infections, some cities have eased a few of their stringent ‘zero-Covid’ requirements, including testing and negative Covid tests to enter public spaces.

Half-a-dozen districts in the southern city of Guangzhou, the worst hit among the cities, issued notices on Wednesday to adjust the epidemic prevention and control measures, the tabloid Global Times reported, adding that “close contacts who meet the conditions to be quarantined at home” in Haizhu district and several other districts will “lift restrictions in temporary control zones”.

Lockdown measures were lifted from dozens of districts in Shanghai on Thursday.

Beijing has “optimised” its nucleic acid testing rules, directing that residents who do not engage in social activities no longer need to take the tests if they do not leave their homes.

“This includes groups such as homebound seniors, children and people working or studying from home,” the state-run China Daily reported.

Beijing, however, reported over 5,000 cases for Wednesday, a record since the pandemic started three years ago.

Overall, China reported 36,061 new Covid-19 infections for Wednesday, of which 4,150 were symptomatic, the national health commission (NHC) said in its daily bulletin on Thursday.

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