In a remarkable reversal of a policy that has confined millions of people to their homes, spurred protests, and led to calls for President Xi Jinping’s resignation, China scaled back regulations on isolating persons with COVID-19 and lifted viral test requirements for some public venues on Wednesday.
The action builds on prior relaxations that raised expectations that Beijing will abandon its “zero COVID” strategy, causing disruptions in global trade and manufacturing.
Experts caution that because millions of older adults still need to be immunized and the healthcare system must be bolstered, restrictions cannot be entirely eased until at least mid-2023.
While many nations try to live with the virus, China is the last significant nation still working to stop its spread.
Chinese officials have changed their language to describe the virus as less dangerous as they relax restrictions, perhaps to get people ready for a similar transition.
The National Health Commission declared that people with mild cases would be able to isolate at home for the first time rather than coming to occasionally congested or unhygienic quarantine sites.
That resolves a significant irritant that contributed to the protests that started on November 25 in Shanghai and other cities.
Public buildings won’t longer need visitors to provide a “health code” on a smartphone app that registers their virus tests and if they’ve gone to places considered to be at high risk of infection, except “special places” like schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.
According to the statement, local authorities must “take stringent and precise measures to protect people’s life, safety, and health” while “minimizing the impact of the pandemic on economic and social growth.”
Although China’s limitations have contributed to low case numbers, few people have gained natural immunity, which might delay plans for reopening if instances rise and officials feel pressured to reimpose restrictions.
After three years of alerting the public about its dangers, Chinese officials have started to portray COVID-19 as less dangerous.
Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist of the China Centers for Disease Control, states that people with mild cases “may heal by themselves without special medical attention.”
According to Wu, the findings show a low number of severe cases, which is excellent news.
According to Liang Wannian, a member of the expert group advising the National Health Commission, the most recent modifications are “little milestones” in a protracted process intended to abolish limitations.
According to Liang, one of China’s most well-known anti-epidemic experts, the government’s objective is to “return to the situation before the epidemic, but the accomplishment of the goal must have circumstances.”
Chinese public health specialist Dr. Yanzhong Huang stressed the announcement’s progressive nature.
Although “not a path to reopening,” according to Huang, head of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University, the additional steps represent a departure from “zero COVID.”
Although China is not prepared for such a drastic change, he warned that if these restrictions are put into place, they “may develop dynamics that drive the rapid spread of the virus.”