Residents of China’s capital Beijing were allowed into parks, supermarkets, offices and airports without a negative Covid-19 test on Tuesday, the latest move in a combination of easing measures across the country following protests. unprecedented against a rigid health policy.
“Beijing prepares for life again,” read a headline in the state-run China Daily, adding that people were “gradually embracing” the new freedoms.
Authorities have loosened some of the toughest Covid-19 restrictions by several notches and softened their tone on the threat of the virus, in what many hope will be a deeper shift towards normality three years into the pandemic.
“This could be the first step towards reopening,” Hu Dongxu, 27, told Reuters as he swiped his travel card to enter a train station in Beijing, which also eliminated the need for tests to use the subway.
Both city airports also no longer require people to test to enter the terminal, state media reported, although there was no indication of a change in the negative test rule before boarding a flight.
The loosening of rules follows a series of protests last month that marked the biggest display of public discontent in China since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012.
China could announce 10 new easing measures as early as Wednesday, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The prospect of an easing has sparked optimism among investors that the world’s second-largest economy will regain strength and help boost global growth.
Some people remain fearful of catching the virus, especially the elderly, while there is concern about the strain the slack could place on a fragile health system.
China has reported 5,235 Covid-19-related deaths as of Monday, but some experts have warned the number could rise above 1 million if reopening is too quick.
Meanwhile, officials continue to play down the dangers posed by the virus, edging closer to what other countries have been saying for more than a year by abandoning restrictions and choosing to live with the virus even as it spreads.
“The most difficult period is over,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Monday, citing the weakening of the virus’ pathogenicity and efforts to vaccinate 90% of the population.
*Reporting by Ryan Woo, Martin Quin Pollard, Bernard Orr, Sophie Yu and Beijing newsroom