China softens tone on COVID severity after protests
China is softening its tone on the severity of COVID-19 and easing some coronavirus restrictions even as its daily case toll hovers near records, after anger over the world's toughest curbs morphed into protests across the country, Paralel.Az reports citing Reuters.
Several cities in the world's second-largest economy, while still reporting infections, are breaking with past practice by lifting district lockdowns and allowing businesses to reopen.
In making those announcements, health authorities did not mention the protests, which ranged from candle-lit vigils in Beijing to clashes with the police on the streets of Guangzhou on Tuesday and at an iPhone factory in Zhengzhou last week.
The demonstrations marked the biggest show of civil disobedience since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago and come at a time when the economy is set to enter a new era of much slower growth rates than it witnessed in recent decades.
Despite near-record case numbers, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said the virus's ability to cause disease was weakening, state media reported.
"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 experience in containing the virus is accumulated," Sun said.
Sun also urged further "optimisation" of testing, treatment and quarantine policies.
The mention of a weakening pathogenicity contrasts with earlier messages from authorities about the deadliness of the virus.
In the past three years, China has dealt with the uncertainties of COVID-19 with a "consistent" strategy, yet "flexible" measures, Sun said, after major cities announced an easing of COVID curbs on Wednesday.
Authorities in at least seven districts in Guangzhou, a sprawling manufacturing hub north of Hong Kong, said in statements they were lifting temporary lockdowns. One district said it would allow in-person classes in schools to resume and would reopen restaurants and other businesses including cinemas.
In China's southwest, Chongqing will allow close contacts of people with COVID-19, who fulfil certain conditions, to quarantine at home, while Zhengzhou in central China announced the "orderly" resumption of businesses, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.
Earlier this week, national health officials said China would respond to "urgent concerns" raised by the public and that COVID rules should be implemented more flexibly, according to a region's conditions.