Beijing [China]: Despite the palpable anger from the public, China on Wednesday retained its strict “zero-Covid” policy, while easing its quarantine policy for international arrivals from fourteen to seven days.
China slashed the period by more than half in the biggest relaxation of entry restrictions in the country since the pandemic began, reported CNN. The nation has some of the world’s strictest entry requirements, mandating most inbound travellers to spend at least 14 days at a government quarantine facility followed by seven days of isolation at home.
The National Health Commission said that incoming visitors need only spend seven days at a quarantine facility and three days at home.
No start date was provided for the new move nor is it considered a sign of the impending end of China’s strict “zero-Covid” policy, which has seen entire communities and cities shut down over just a handful of coronavirus cases, reported CNN.
Meanwhile, China’s President Xi Jinping reaffirmed the country’s “zero-Covid” policy during his visit to Wuhan, saying that he would rather “temporarily sacrifice a little economic growth” than “harm people’s health,” state news agency Xinhua reported.
However, China’s approach of snap lockdowns, mass testing and harsh quarantines resulted in public outcry. Moreover, the strategy has wrecked economic activities and hurt the job market. In May, the unemployment rate for people aged 16-24 hit a record high of 18.4 per cent, reported CNN.
Having backed themselves into a corner with their earlier rhetoric, China’s leaders feel unable to change tack — even in the light of more transmissible coronavirus variants like Omicron — without an acute loss of face.
When World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the strategy “unsustainable” in May, his comments were scrubbed from the internet by Chinese censors.
The easing of quarantine rules comes a day after Beijing Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper for the Chinese capital, sparked panic after it appeared to publish a misleading quote by a senior Communist Party official, claiming the “zero-Covid” policy would remain in place in the city “for the next five years.”
Beijing Daily removed the quote, calling it an “editing error,” and reference to it was deleted from the internet as Chinese censors sought to allay a huge online backlash.
CNN reviewed the entire speech and while the published quote from Beijing Daily was misleading, Beijing’s party chief Cai Qi did discuss at length the possibility of keeping zero-Covid policies in place in the capital over the next five-year period.
The pandemic controls that would stay in place include routine PCR tests, strict entry rules, regular health checks in residential neighborhoods and public venues, as well as rigorous monitoring and testing for people entering and leaving Beijing, state media quoted Cai as saying.
Questions are being raised as to how long Beijing can keep the policy on the road as citizens lose patience. While Shanghai ended its brutal two-month lockdown at the start of June, many communities are reintroducing confinement measures.
One viral video — which has since been removed from Chinese social media — captured a recent protest at a Shanghai compound.
It shows residents crowded along the fence, demanding to be released and imploring authorities to stop sending Covid-negative residents to quarantine facilities, just because they live in a building in the vicinity of a Covid positive case.
One of them — who says through a loudspeaker, “We are being illegally imprisoned” — is promptly taken away by the authorities. Another sticks his middle fingers up at Covid-rule enforcers in hazmat suits, reported CNN.