China on Wednesday announced sweeping changes to its national response to the pandemic, the clearest and most significant sign yet that the country is moving away from its strict zero-Covid approach.
In a statement reported by state broadcaster CCTV, China’s State Council unveiled 10 new guidelines that ease some restrictions, including allowing home quarantine and largely removing the health QR code that was required to enter most public places.
Local governments had already taken action this week that indicated a possible change in direction – including some major cities easing Covid testing requirements.
But this is the first official change in Covid policy at the national level – a notable U-turn by the central government, which for the past three years has insisted that the pandemic is a war that can only be won by eradicating epidemics wherever they occur and controlling the spread of the virus. by unshakeable restrictions.
Here are some of the new rules.
Since the start of the pandemic, China has used health codes on cellphones to track the health status of individuals. The color of these codes – red, amber or green – decides whether users can leave their homes, use public transport and enter public places, or if they eventually have to self-quarantine.
According to guidelines released on Monday, people will be able to enter most places without showing a negative test result or their health code – a significant step after nearly three years of disruption to people’s daily routines and livelihoods.
Only a few exceptions will still require these checks, including nursing homes, medical facilities and secondary schools. Companies can now determine their own prevention and control policies, the report adds.
In another massive change, asymptomatic Covid patients or those with mild symptoms will be allowed to quarantine at home instead of being taken to a government facility.
Throughout the pandemic, Chinese residents have described the chaos and stress of entering quarantine camps, with many saying it was unclear when they would be allowed to leave, and others complaining about overcrowding or poor conditions.
In several cases, health workers allegedly killed the pets of those quarantined by the government, citing health risks – each time sparking outrage on Chinese social media.
The new guidelines also urge authorities to “ensure the normal functioning of society and basic medical services”, saying areas that are not designated as high risk should not restrict people’s movements or shut down businesses.
Lockdowns are only allowed in “high-risk areas” and, even then, should be lifted “quickly” if no new cases are discovered for five consecutive days, he said. He added that authorities were prohibited from blocking emergency exits, entrances to apartments or buildings and other doors, so that residents could still evacuate and seek medical attention if necessary.
The point comes at a particularly sensitive time, with China still reeling from a wave of rare public protests in late November and early December, which was sparked by a deadly fire in the far western region of Xinjiang. Public fury had swept the country after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures had delayed firefighters from reaching victims.
This is a developing story. More soon