BEIJING, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Some communities in Chinese cities where COVID-19 is still spreading are easing testing requirements and quarantine rules earlier than expected. change in virus policies after widespread social unrest nationwide.
However, the uneven easing of COVID restrictions is raising fears among some residents that they are suddenly more exposed to a disease that authorities have described as consistently deadly until this week.
Pharmacies in Beijing said this week there was a surge in purchases of N95 masks, which offer a higher degree of protection than the disposable surgical type. Some people wearing N95s on Friday said they got them from their employers.
Such careful behavior weddings are sick for consumer-facing businesses and factories in major COVID-hit cities hoping to stay virus-free at least until their workers return to their families in the countryside for the Lunar New Year.
The elderly, most of whom are still unvaccinated, feel most vulnerable.
Beijing resident Shi Wei, who suffers from lymphoma, spends most of her time in isolation, but still worries about getting COVID and passing it on to her 80-year-old mother as she visits the hospital every three weeks.
“I can only pray that God will protect me,” I said.
China’s COVID policies have crippled its economy, stifling everything from domestic consumption to factory production to global supply chains and causing serious mental stress for hundreds of millions of people.
Anger over the world’s toughest restrictions has fueled dozens of protests in more than 20 cities in recent days in a show of civil disobedience seen in mainland China since Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
In Guangzhou, a sprawling manufacturing hub north of Hong Kong, the city lifted lockdowns in at least seven districts less than 24 hours after people clashed with riot police in white hazmat suits. Some communities are now requiring less frequent testing and allowing close contacts of infected people to quarantine at home, according to state media.
But the uneven relaxation of regulations around the city is causing other problems for its residents.
“I’m going on vacation tomorrow and I had to look for a place to get a COVID test because I still need a 48-hour code to get to the airport, but most of the testing stations have been removed,” said a diplomat at a foreign consulate. in Guangzhou.
Sun Chunlan, the vice premier overseeing the COVID effort, said this week that the virus’s ability to cause disease has weakened — a message consistent with what health authorities around the world have been saying for more than a year.
Although government authorities in the cities that lifted the lockdowns did not mention the protests in their announcements, national health officials said China would address “urgent concerns” expressed by the public.
China is preparing to announce it nationwide mitigation quarantine and testing requirements, sources told Reuters, which many hoped would make enforcement more uniform.
The measures include mass testing and reducing the use of routine nucleic acid tests, as well as moves to allow positive cases and close contacts to be isolated at home under certain conditions, sources familiar with the matter said.
However, some communities in Beijing and elsewhere have already allowed close contacts of people carrying the virus to quarantine at home, while some shopping malls in the capital reopened on Thursday.
A residential community in eastern Beijing issued a notice on Friday to say that “non-socially active” people living at home, such as the elderly and infants, do not need to be tested regularly “to reduce the risk of contracting”.
Several testing booths in the region have stopped functioning and the number of test takers has dropped by 20-30%, a testing official said. Still, the nearby park remained closed, and restaurants and cafes only sold food.
Earlier this year, entire communities were shut down, sometimes for weeks, even after a single positive event, leaving people stranded, losing income, poor access to basic necessities, and struggling mentally with isolation.
Lunch services have resumed in some areas of Guangzhou and residents are not being asked to present negative PCR tests to enter, state media reported.
In nearby Shenzhen, some people will be allowed to quarantine at home. About a thousand kilometers to the west, in Chongqing, a wide range of businesses, from barbershops to gyms, were allowed to reopen this week.
In Chengdu, Sichuan province, passengers no longer needed negative test results to board a bus or subway. In Jincheng, halfway from Beijing to Shanghai, people can now enter karaoke venues, but still cannot dine in restaurants.
Meanwhile, many communities in areas designated as high risk by various cities remain under lockdown, and many people are still required to undergo daily testing.
“The high spirits are not universal,” said the Guangzhou-based diplomat. “While many people are enjoying their new-found freedom, it’s important to note that there are still hundreds of high-risk zones that are closed across the city.”
Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Written by Marius Zaharia; Edited by Michael Perry
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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