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China loosens more Covid curbs as easing gathers pace

Beijing residents cheered the removal of Covid-19 testing booths while Shenzhen followed other cities in announcing it would no longer require commuters to present their test results to travel, as an easing of China’s virus curbs gathered pace.

The southern city of Shenzhen made the announcement on Saturday, following similar moves by Chengdu and Tianjin, among China’s biggest cities.

Although daily cases hover near all-time highs, some cities
are taking steps to loosen Covid-19 testing requirements and
quarantine rules as China looks to make its zero-Covid policy
more targeted amid an economic slowdown and public frustration
that has boiled over into unrest.

Many testing booths in the Chinese capital of Beijing have been shut, as the city stops demanding negative test results as a condition to enter places such as supermarkets and prepares to do so for subways from Monday, though many other venues including offices still have the requirement.

A video showing workers in Beijing removing a testing booth by crane on to a truck went viral on Chinese social media on Friday.

“This should have been taken away earlier!,” said one commentator. “Banished to history,” said another.

The authenticity of the footage was not verified. At some of the remaining booths, however, residents grumbled about hour-long queues for the tests due to the closures.

READ MORE: China relaxes Covid restrictions after wide protests

Further reductions coming

Three years into the pandemic, China has been a global
outlier with its zero-tolerance approach towards Covid that has
seen it enforce lockdowns and frequent virus testing. It says
the measures are needed to save lives and avoid overwhelming its
healthcare system.

China began tweaking its approach last month, urging
localities to become more targeted. Initial reactions, however,
were marked with confusion and even tighter lockdowns as cities
scrambled to keep a lid on rising cases.

Then an apartment fire last month in the far western
city of Urumqi killed 10 people, sparking dozens of protests against Covid curbs in
a wave unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi
Jinping took power in 2012.

The public believes the deaths were caused by excessive lockdown measures that delayed rescue efforts. Cities including Guangzhou and
Beijing have since taken the lead in making changes.

Deadly fire in Xinjiang stirs anger over China’s zero-Covid policy

China is set to further announce a nationwide reduction in
testing requirements as well as allowing positive cases and
close contacts to isolate at home under certain conditions,
a landmark move that marks a break from official guidance to send such people to central quarantine.

Xi, during a meeting with European Union officials in
Beijing on Thursday, blamed the mass protests on youth
frustrated by years of the Covid-19 pandemic, but said the
now-dominant Omicron variant of the virus paved the way for
fewer restrictions, EU officials said.

Officials have only recently begun to downplay the dangers
of Omicron, a significant change in messaging in a country where
fear of Covid has run deep.

Still, the relief has also been accompanied by concerns,
especially from groups such as the elderly who feel more exposed
to a disease authorities had consistently described as deadly
until this week, highlighting the difficulties Xi and Chinese
leaders face in loosening curbs.

China’s major cities under security blanket to prevent more Covid protests

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