HomeBreaking NewsChina takes major step away from strict ‘zero-Covid’ after protests

China takes major step away from strict ‘zero-Covid’ after protests

HONG KONG — People in China with mild or asymptomatic coronavirus cases will be allowed to isolate at home, health officials said Wednesday, in a major step away from a strict “zero-Covid” strategy that has constrained daily life for almost three years and recently set off rare nationwide protests.

The National Health Commission said those isolating at home would be subject to health monitoring and would be released after testing negative on the sixth and seventh days. Anyone whose condition worsens “will be transferred to a designated hospital for treatment in time,” it said in a statement listing 10 new measures.

Previously, people who tested positive for the virus were sent to centralized quarantine facilities regardless of the severity of their symptoms. Those facilities will still be available to people who do not wish to isolate at home.

The National Health Commission also said proof of a negative PCR test and a green “health code” would no longer be required to enter most venues, aside from places like nursing homes, medical facilities, child care institutions and primary and secondary schools. Until now, many cities had required negative test results as often as daily in order to enter shopping malls or take public transportation.

The announcement on Wednesday is the latest easing of restrictions after protesters in cities across the country demanded an end to a “zero-Covid” strategy that has made China an outlier among the world’s major economies.

Officials have defended the policy as necessary to save lives in a country where the fragile health care system could be overwhelmed by uncontrolled outbreaks. But they had already begun easing restrictions before the protests began late last month, announcing 20 “optimized” measures on Nov. 11.

The protests were the biggest show of public unrest China had seen in decades, and were quickly put down by the ruling Communist Party. But local officials have since further eased lockdowns and testing requirements in an effort to address frustration with the restrictions, which have created an atmosphere of anxiety and undermined the economy.

Sun Chunlan, the vice premier in charge of China’s pandemic response, said last week that the country was facing “a new situation” as the virus becomes weaker. She stressed the importance of improving treatment measures, preparing medical resources and increasing vaccinations, especially among the older population.

China reported 25,115 new infections nationwide on Wednesday, more than 80 percent of them asymptomatic.

Olivia Guan contributed.

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