The latest changes to how China classifies and responds to COVID19 are a further indication that there will be no turning back on the government’s sudden and dramatic reversal.
It hasn’t even been three weeks since the announcement was first made that the pandemic response was “optimized”, and it already appears that the vast majority of the infrastructure and rules that governed the incredibly strict policy of zero China’s COVID have disappeared.
People no longer need to scan in public places with health codes, get tested regularly, or go to a quarantine facility when they catch it.
The result is that the virus has swept this country. It is estimated to have already peaked in Beijing with more than 50% of people infected in recent weeks.
In this context, the restrictions governing international arrivals no longer made sense, nor did classifying the response as Category A. Dropping them is a very strong signal that the government is truly committed to reopening.
The reasons are clear, economically zero COVID was absolutely hammering China, growth has slowed dramatically and hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been brought to their knees. The announcements of relaxation of business travel visas are telling.
There were also the historic protests that swept across China at the end of November – although they were probably not the main cause, they were probably a straw of sorts for a regime that values stability above all else. .
The difficulty now for the government will be to manage the huge wave of infections and deaths.
China ends COVID quarantine for international arrivals
Precise figures are no longer published for either, so it’s impossible to know how badly things are going among a population with low levels of immunity and with around 60% of over-80s not fully vaccinated.
But there is growing anecdotal evidence that hospitals and crematoria in some places are overwhelmed.
Many argue that China has had time to better prepare for this moment and to manage the reopening more gradually. The fact that he didn’t perhaps indicates how much pressure he was under.