China Covid: Xi’s face-saving exit from his signature policy – BBC

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workers remove medical waste from building where people quarantine at home 05/12 Reuters

If you want to know what the government’s Covid plan is in China, look at what it does rather than what it says.

Take Beijing for example.

There has not been a significant drop in infections, yet public transport now no longer requires a PCR test result, bars and restaurants are slowly re-opening, and in some cases people are being allowed to isolate at home after catching Covid instead of going into centralised quarantine facilities.

From Tuesday test results are zero longer needed to go into supermarkets, office buildings and some other public venues.

So when you examine what is happening here right now, the trajectory seems clear – the government appears in order to have quietly dumped zero Covid as a goal.

This does not mean that all Covid-related restrictions have ended – a person still need to have taken a test in the particular past 48 hours to get into hospitals, schools, restaurants plus gyms, for example. It also does not mean some limitations won’t be around in, say, half a year.

But the stated goal associated with reducing each outbreak to zero new infections… gone.

The new plan appears to be to slow the spread of the virus, hopefully enabling the health system to cope, rather than trying crush the disease.

This may involve monitoring the virus as this spreads in an attempt to manage the flow of infections, serious illness and deaths.

At times it may also mean the reimposition of certain measures, but cities will not have in order to record zero cases to remain open.

Beijing is not alone in removing some measures – and they vary widely by region.

In south-eastern Zhejiang province for example , there is to be no more regular testing apart from for people working certain specific jobs.

Shandong province in the east will no longer require checks to buy cough medicine or drive on a highway; central Henan Province will no longer require PCR tests in order to enter housing communities.

Similar easing is also happening in the massive cities of Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Urumqi, capital of western Xinjiang region, has re-opened supermarkets, hotels, cinemas and gyms. Public transport has resumed in Tibet.

Just a few weeks ago, the Chinese government was urging the particular population to stay the course with the zero-Covid approach.

Despite overwhelming evidence that China’s epidemic control measures were hammering the economy, smashing people’s livelihoods, Xi Jinping stood up at the Great Hall of the People during the recent Communist Party Congress plus re-stated that there would be no swerving from his signature policy.

Then came the protests.

A tower block fire in Urumqi killed 10 people, triggering a wave of public fury.

On social media, the deaths were blamed on Covid restrictions, which are said to have hampered the access of open fire crews and blocked escape routes for residents. Beijing denies this and the particular BBC has not been able to verify the claims, but that the fireplace led to demonstrations across the country is not in dispute.

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In city right after city, protesters demanded an end to zero Covid. They wanted their old lives back. Some people started calling for Xi Jinping to resign.

There have not already been such widespread acts associated with public defiance against the party since the 1989 political upheaval which led to the bloody crackdown in and around Tiananmen Square.

Suddenly changes are being made – and Chinese individuals are making jokes about how protests do actually work.

Last week’s death of former leader Jiang Zemin put even more pressure on the government. His era is viewed by many, nostalgically, as a period of reconnecting with the outside world and high-speed growth. The comparisons with the particular current situation are stark.

The other danger for Xi Jinping’s administration was that acts of public mourning could transform into yet a lot more protests. This had happened decades earlier after reformist leader Hu Yaobang died and crowds gathering to mark his passing transformed into the Tiananmen Square protest movement.

All this has led to a government that had drastically underestimated public anger in its Covid measures now abruptly changing tack.

A face-saving way of doing this has been required.

beijingers on train, 05/12

EPA

Officials inside China were never going to come out and apologise to people for keeping them cooped up much longer than necessary.

But the party is beginning in order to change its public messaging via state media, right now saying that new strains of Covid are not nearly as deadly.

This is the clear change from the particular previous line that the rest of the world was going through Covid hell plus citizens should consider themselves lucky to live in The far east where they were being kept safe.

Two significant challenges remain.

Firstly, the effort to get more people vaccinated, especially the elderly and those in high-risk groups, has been inadequate. Official figures show just 40% of people over the age of 80 have had a booster shot. Elderly unvaccinated individuals made up huge swathes associated with the deaths in Hong Kong.

Secondly, officials have had years to expand China’s hospital ICU capacity. This remains inadequate, so a rush of emergency patients following any dramatic escalation in Covid cases would really test the health program.

For this reason, the goal will be to move forward slowly, trying to ensure that will hospitals are not swamped. If they are then restrictions can always become reimposed.

China’s new path will evolve step by step, even if it sometimes means going backwards again.

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