After the demonstrations, Beijing seems to want to lighten the “zero Covid”

LChinese authorities have given signs of a possible relaxation of their strict “zero Covid” policy, after a wave of angry demonstrations against health restrictions and for more freedoms.

China’s approach to the virus is “facing new circumstances” thanks to the less dangerous nature of the Omicron variant and advances in vaccination, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said. speaking on Wednesday before the National Health Commission (NHC).

On Tuesday, Beijing had already decided to accelerate the vaccination of the elderly, which is still insufficient.

A central figure in China’s strategy in the face of the pandemic, Ms Sun made no mention of the “zero Covid” policy in her remarks – according to remarks reported by the state agency New China -, raising hopes that this strategy , which has been disrupting the lives of Chinese people and the country’s economy for three years, would soon be eased.

Exasperated by repeated confinements and almost daily PCR tests, thousands of Chinese demonstrated last weekend, in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or even Wuhan – where the first cases had been detected in December 2019.

This is the most widespread wave of protest since the pro-democracy mobilizations of Tiananmen in 1989.

Taken by surprise, the communist authorities called for “repression” to contain this movement, but also seem to want to adapt health policy.

Record but tiny numbers

Thus, Beijing has announced that it will ease the PCR test requirements.

Elderly people and those who study or work remotely are now exempt from daily tests, said Xu Hejian, a spokesperson for the municipal government.

Residents must, however, present a negative test within 48 hours to enter public places.

In Canton, where Tuesday clashes had opposed demonstrators and the police, the confinement in place for several weeks was lifted, despite the record contamination figures.

Because, if the figures are indeed among the highest since the start of the pandemic, they remain tiny: 35,800 local cases reported on Thursday, out of a population of 1.4 billion inhabitants and with a vast majority of asymptomatic cases.

On Thursday, the Southern Metropolis Daily, a state newspaper, said authorities in Beijing and Guangzhou (south) would allow some people who tested positive to stay in isolation at home instead of going to a quarantine center.

The article was later deleted and no response was given to AFP’s requests for confirmation from local authorities.

The city of Chongqing (center) has just authorized contact cases meeting certain conditions to stay at home, a clear change from the policy applied until then which required all – positive cases and contacts – to go to a center quarantine.

These local reliefs, along with Ms. Sun’s statements, “could be a sign that China is beginning to consider ending its strict zero Covid policy,” analysts at ANZ Research say.

“We believe Chinese authorities are shifting to a ‘living with Covid’ strategy, as evidenced by new rules that allow people to self-isolate at home instead of being transported to quarantine centres.” , they add.

Thursday morning, two major Chinese newspapers published expert remarks to reassure the non-dangerousness of Covid in the majority of cases, after similar publications in recent days which seem to prepare the population for a change of mentality.

Political demands

With the approach of the 3rd anniversary of the first cases detected in Wuhan, the inhabitants are tired.

A deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of the northwest Xinjiang region, sparked protests over the weekend, with some netizens blaming health restrictions for hampering rescue work.

But the demonstrators also chanted political demands, some even demanding the departure of President Xi Jinping, renewed last month for an unprecedented third term.

The mobilizations of 1989 ended in bloody repression when the army intervened, notably on the famous Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

On Wednesday, when the death of former President Jiang Zemin, who came to power just after Tiananmen, was announced, the Communist Party rightly underlined its ability to restore calm during this uprising.

China’s repression of these new demonstrations is a “sign of weakness” of the communist leaders, said Wednesday the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken.

“What the United States should do is respond seriously to the needs of its own people and already take good care of its own affairs,” Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, retorted Thursday. during a regular press briefing.

“The United States has a lot of problems at home itself and has adopted a lax health policy against Covid-19 (…), so they are in no way qualified to criticize the effects of Chinese policy against the epidemic,” he added.

01/12/2022 10:16:04 – Beijing (AFP) – © 2022 AFP

After the demonstrations, Beijing seems to want to lighten the “zero Covid”