After protests against the zero Covid policy, China extended this Saturday (3) the easing of quarantine rules that entities such as the WHO classify as unsustainable. In the country’s capital Beijing, tents used for mass testing have been removed. In Shenzhen, to the south, officials said they would no longer be required to present a negative test result for travel.
The measures signal changes in the campaign to face the health crisis despite the increase in cases of coronavirus in Chinese megacities, such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. This week, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan pledged a “more humane approach” to fighting the pandemic.
In Beijing, the removal of the structures was celebrated by the population. A video that recorded employees dismantling tents used for mass testing has gone viral on Chinese social network Weibo. “This should have been taken down earlier,” says one person on the recording. “Banned to history,” adds another. The veracity of the images could not be independently verified.
On the other hand, with fewer test sites available, there have been complaints about long queues at the remaining structures. Now, residents of the capital no longer need to prove that they are free of the disease to enter supermarkets. In the second (5), the same rule should be applied in the subway. But the presentation of an exam with a negative result remains mandatory in other places, such as offices.
In Shenzhen, in addition to the fact that it is no longer mandatory to present a test to travel, authorities have announced that exams will no longer be required to access public transport or parks. Other Chinese cities such as Chengdu (southwest) and Tianjin (northeast) have adopted similar measures.
If there was relaxation in the quarantine rules, the same treatment was not applied in relation to the tolerance of protests. Police maintain a strong contingent in the Liangmaqiao region, east of Beijing, the scene of large demonstrations in recent days, and, according to the American newspaper The New York Times, agents use facial recognition technology to identify protesters.
There is also ostensive policing in Urumqi, in western China, where a fire killed ten people in isolation and motivated the biggest wave of demonstrations in the country’s recent history, with criticism of the Covid-zero policy and also of the Xi Jinping regime, raised to a unprecedented third term in October.
Although on a smaller scale, the protests continue — even with creative and unusual ways to circumvent the repression and censorship of the dictatorship. In response to the acts, China is expected to announce other easing measures in the coming days, according to the Reuters news agency.
On Thursday (1st), during a meeting with European Union authorities in Beijing, Xi said that the protests were spurred by frustration, mainly from young people, after years of the pandemic, but that the fact that the omicron variant is less lethal makes it possible to relax the rules from quarantine.
A day later, residents of Beijing received messages on social media with guidelines for infected people to stay at home. The measure was considered symbolic in China’s policy to combat Covid, as it was not recommended to send patients to the central quarantine, in which people are taken to government facilities and separated from the family to avoid household transmission.
The repression of the protests, however, continues to be the target of criticism around the world. On the same day, a letter signed by 42 US senators criticized the Xi regime and recalled the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. According to the government, 300 people died in the pro-democracy demonstrations, most of them soldiers. Human rights NGOs, however, say thousands of people have been murdered.
“We warn the Communist Party of China in the strongest possible terms against any further violent crackdown on peaceful protesters who simply want more freedom,” reads an excerpt from the document sent to Beijing’s ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang. “If that happens, we believe there will be serious consequences for the US-China relationship.” Earlier, the head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken, had already said that China’s repression is a sign of weakness of the communist regime.
The easing in China is seen with caution, and it is still too early to talk about the end of Covid zero. Analysts quoted by Reuters say authorities are working to cope with an increase in the number of cases without this resulting in tough containment measures or an explosive growth in the number of deaths.
They also say a significant reopening by March is unlikely, as China has only recently launched a mass vaccination campaign for the elderly. China recorded 32,827 new infections on Saturday, up from 34,772 the day before. Until Friday, the country had 5,233 deaths related to the disease.