Dec 6, 2022 - World

Beijing no longer requires negative COVID test to enter many public spaces

A demonstrator holds a blank sign and chants slogans during a protest in Beijing on Nov. 28. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

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.
Go deeper