In the capital of 22 million inhabitants, many shops had reopened as early as this weekend and residents could use public transport again on Monday without having to present a negative PCR test result less than 48 hours old.
Same measure in Shanghai where this obligation is also lifted to access certain public places (parks, tourist attractions, etc.).
The financial megalopolis of 25 million inhabitants had been severely confined for more than two months in the spring after the appearance of an outbreak of cases, a very unpopular measure which also affected the country’s economy.
However, the presentation of a health pass continues to be required in many places and travel remains difficult between provinces, travelers being able to remain stranded in their place of stay in the event of an epidemic outbreak.
A week ago, the anger that had been simmering for months against the strict “zero Covid” policy erupted with demonstrations in a dozen Chinese cities, a scale unprecedented since the pro-democracy mobilizations of Tiananmen in 1989.
– “Flexibility” –
In effect for almost three years, this policy has disrupted the daily lives of residents, with repeated confinements and large-scale PCR tests almost every day during 2022.
Led in particular by students, these demonstrations quickly took a political turn, with some demanding the departure of President Xi Jinping.
In response, authorities have since started easing restrictions, a move applauded by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Chinese president himself has acknowledged that the less lethal Omicron variant “opens the way to more flexibility in restrictions”, according to statements to European Council President Charles Michel, visiting Beijing last week, reported by a European official.
The official press, which had previously insisted on the dangerousness of the Covid, has also changed its discourse.
Chinese business media Yicai quoted a health expert on Sunday as pointing out that “most of those infected are asymptomatic…and the death rate is very low.”
– Economic growth at half mast –
The National Health Commission (NHC), which has the value of a ministry, classifies the Covid in category A, the most dangerous, which allows local authorities to impose confinements and placements in quarantine centers.
This approach is now “no longer in line with what science says”, believes the expert, calling for “lowering” the category Covid.
But while the Chinese economy should have recorded one of its worst growth in four decades this year, getting out of “zero Covid” is a delicate operation.
“Finding a balance between Covid-19 control measures and economic growth has once again become a central question”, according to economist Wang Zhe, who commented on Monday on the poor activity figures in services.
“Central government has recently issued clear requirements on how to further optimize (health policy). But how local authorities will or will not implement these instructions will be key.”
Near Shanghai, the city of Hangzhou has announced that it will end large-scale PCR tests – the norm in almost all of the country – except for those in contact with retirement homes, schools and daycares.
– Cabins dismantled –
In Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang (northwest) – where a deadly fire sparked national protests, health restrictions being accused of having hampered relief – supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts reopened on Monday .
In Wuhan (center), where the first cases of Covid-19 were detected in December 2019, and in Shandong province (east), public transport has also stopped requiring negative PCR tests from passengers.
In Zhengzhou (center), the authorities have lifted the test requirement for public places and transport as well as residential buildings.
While many test cabins have been dismantled in recent days, long queues were visible this weekend in front of those that remained, especially in Beijing and Shenzhen (south), because tests are still necessary almost everywhere.
“Students cannot go to school without a negative test for 24 hours”, underlined a user on the Weibo social network, a sort of Chinese Twitter.
“So what’s the point of closing test booths without removing all testing requirements everywhere?”
The number of cases was down on Monday, to 29,724, mostly asymptomatic, a tiny figure compared to the Chinese population (1.4 billion).