Beijing no longer requires negative COVID test to enter many public spaces
The demonstrations that rocked many Chinese cities last week were quickly suppressed but succeeded in getting China's leaders to rework the zero-COVID policy they've implemented for almost three years.
Why it matters: Loosened restrictions will relieve the hardship and uncertainty that many Chinese people have faced and could boost a struggling economy. But an end to zero-COVID will also mean a surge in COVID cases, serious illness and deaths.
Driving the news: Beijing municipal authorities announced on Tuesday that a negative COVID test would no longer be required for admittance to many public spaces, including grocery stores, parks and airports, per Reuters.
- For the first time, Chinese state media began portraying COVID-19 as a less serious illness that typically causes only mild symptoms.
- Health authorities in cities across China said they would allow people who have tested positive to quarantine at home instead of in a centralized quarantine facility.
- Commuters in many cities will no longer need a negative COVID test to travel.
State of play: The country is currently a patchwork of varying levels of restrictions, and many people still feel restrained.
- In November, health authorities announced 20 guidelines to ease pandemic restrictions, including reducing quarantine times and allowing people who test negative to quarantine at home.
- But those guidelines were inconsistently implemented, leading to frustration and impatience.
- Students at Nanjing Tech University protested on Monday night after the campus locked down when just one COVID case was discovered.
Between the lines: Low vaccination rates among China's elderly had contributed to the authorities' stated goal of keeping COVID cases as low as possible.
- But the number of elderly who have received vaccinations has doubled since April, when just 20% were vaccinated. About 40% of elderly people had received jabs as of November.
- Even so, China's population is vaccinated entirely with Chinese-made vaccines that use a different technology than Western-made mRNA vaccines, which are more effective at preventing serious disease. Chinese authorities have not permitted the country's citizens to receive foreign-made vaccines.
Meanwhile, the crackdown on dissent has continued. Chinese police began using the country's vast surveillance apparatus to track down protesters.
- Chinese authorities in charge of internet censorship also ordered an "emergency response" to scrub online spaces of support for the protests and criticism of the government.
What to watch: China's health authorities may announce 10 additional guidelines for easing pandemic restrictions, building on those announced last month, Reuters reports.
- But China's health care system lacks the capacity to deal with a sudden surge in serious illness, leading to concerns that a spike in cases could overwhelm hospitals.