China has announced a nationwide loosening of its hardline Covid restrictions that had hammered the world’s second-biggest economy and ignited rare protests against the ruling Communist Party.
The new rules are a major relaxation of President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-Covid policy, three years into the pandemic and long after the rest of the world had largely learnt to live with the virus.
However, with vaccination rates remaining low among China’s elderly and a health system still regarded as ill-prepared for a wave of infections, Xi has not abandoned travel curbs and heavy testing completely.
Under the new guidelines announced by the National Health Commission, the frequency and scope of PCR testing – long a tedious mainstay of life in zero-Covid China – will be reduced.
Lockdowns – a major source of public anger – will also be limited to as small a scope as is feasible, and authorities are required to free areas that show no positive cases after five days.
People with non-severe Covid infections can isolate at home instead of in centralised government facilities.
And people will no longer be required to show a green health code on their phone to enter public buildings and spaces, except for “nursing homes, medical institutions, kindergartens, middle and high schools”.