China’s Beijing eases COVID curbs after rare protests

Authorities in Chinese capital will no longer require negative COVID test to enter supermarkets, commercial buildings.

Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on November 27, 2022.
Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, November 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures (AP Photo)

China’s capital Beijing is no longer requiring a negative COVID-19 test to enter supermarkets and commercial buildings, local authorities have said, in the latest loosening of the country’s tough “zero COVID” strategy following rare protests.

Residents must still provide a negative test result to enter other venues, including schools, bars, karaoke lounges, internet cafes, indoor gyms and nursing homes.

The loosening of restrictions comes after at least a dozen cities across China have eased COVID-19 curbs in recent days following the largest display of civil disobedience in decades last month.

The protests, which spread to more than 20 Chinese cities, began on November 25 amid claims that COVID curbs in far-western Xinjiang had contributed to the death toll of an apartment building fire that killed at least 10 people. Authorities denied that lockdowns had trapped the victims or hindered rescue efforts.

Shanghai, China’s biggest city, on Sunday became the latest metropolis to scrap tests for public transport and outdoor areas such as parks and tourist attractions, following similar moves by Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu and Tianjin.

While Beijing has moved to loosen some restrictions and portray newer coronavirus variants as less severe, it has yet to signal when the country may fully reopen and return to normal life.

Many analysts caution that a quick reopening is unlikely given the country’s poor vaccine coverage among the elderly and lack of natural immunity.

“China is not ready for a fast reopening yet,” Morgan Stanley said in a report released Monday. “We expect lingering containment measures.”

Only 40 percent of Chinese over 80 have received a third dose of vaccine, according to the National Health Commission, far fewer than in other countries.

Beijing last week unveiled plans to vaccinate millions of Chinese in their 70s and 80s, taking aim at a key stumbling block to dropping containment measures.

China on Tuesday reported 28,062 new COVID-19 infections for the previous day, down from 30,014 cases a day earlier.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies