New China COVID rules spur concern as some cities halt routine tests

  • Some cities no longer require regular testing for COVID
  • Last Friday, China eased various virus curbs
  • Communities worry about the spread of the virus under relaxed rules
  • Major cities, including Beijing, report record cases on November 13

Beijing, November 14 (Reuters) – Several Chinese cities began canceling routine community testing for COVID-19 on Monday, days after China announced it was easing some of its strict coronavirus measures, sparking concern in some communities as the number of cases in the country continued to rise.

In the northern city of Shijiazhuang, some families have expressed concern that their children could catch the virus at school and have given excuses such as toothaches or earaches for their children’s absence, according to social media after state media reported that testing in the city would end. .

Other cities, including Yanji in the northeast and Hefei in the east, also said they would end routine community COVID tests, according to official reports, halting a practice that has become a major fiscal burden for communities across China.

On Friday, the National Health Commission updated its COVID rules, easing curbs in the most significant way yet, describing the changes as “optimizing” measures to mitigate the impact on people’s lives, even as China largely adheres to its zero-covid policy. three years of the pandemic.

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Investors welcomed the move, which cut the quarantine period for close contacts and incoming travelers by two days to eight days, although many experts do not expect China to begin any significant easing until March or April at the earliest.

The changes come even as several major cities, including Beijing, reported record numbers of infections on Monday, challenging authorities as they try to quickly contain outbreaks and minimize the impact on people’s lives and the economy.

Some areas in Beijing require daily testing.

Concern and confusion in Shijiazhuang were the top five topics on Twitter-like Weibo.

Zhang Chaochao, the head of the city’s Communist Party, said that the “optimization” of its preventive measures should not be seen as the government’s “lying down” – an expression of inaction – and that Shijiazhuang is not seeking “total liberation” from the grip of COVID.

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The city, about 295 km (183 miles) southwest of Beijing, reported 544 infections on Sunday, of which only three were attributed to symptoms.

“I’m a little afraid. Nucleic acid tests will not be viewed in public places in the future, and nucleic acid test stations will also be closed, everyone has to pay for the tests,” one Weibo user wrote, referring to Shijiazhuang.

Gavekal Research said in a note on Monday that it was a “curious time” for China to ease its COVID policies: “The combination of an intensifying outbreak and weakening core requirements has fueled debate over whether China is now gradually shifting to a de facto tolerance of Covid,” it said.

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Nationwide, the National Health Commission reported 16,072 new locally transmitted cases, up from 14,761 on Sunday and the most in China since April 25, when Shanghai battled an outbreak that put the city on lockdown for two months.

Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Zhengzhou have all recorded their worst days so far, although cases in the capital have been in the hundreds and thousands in other cities.

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The number of cases is small compared to the level of infection in other countries, but China’s insistence on immediately eliminating outbreaks as soon as they occur under a zero-covid policy has severely disrupted daily life and the economy.

Under the new rules announced on Friday, individuals, boroughs and public spaces can still be locked down, but the health commission has relaxed some of the measures.

In addition to shortening quarantine, secondary close contacts are no longer identified and isolated, eliminating significant inconvenience for people caught up in contact tracing efforts when a case is identified.

Despite the loosened curbs, many experts have described the measures as gradual, with some predicting that China is unlikely to begin reopening until after the March parliamentary session at the earliest.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said on Monday that rising cases in cities including Guangzhou and Chongqing and the continuation of zero-covid policies pose downside short-term economic risks.

Reporting by Liz Lee, Jason Xue, Wang Jing and Ryan Woo; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore, Tony Munroe and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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