- Regular COVID testing is no longer required in many cities
- China eased various virus curbs last Friday
- Communities worried about virus spreading under relaxed rules
- Major cities including Beijing report recorded cases for November 13
BEIJING, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Several Chinese cities began cutting routine community-based COVID-19 testing on Monday, days after China announced the relaxation of some of its heavy-handed coronavirus measures, sparking concern in some communities as outbreaks across the country continued to rise
In the northern city of Shijiazhuang, some families expressed concern about exposing their children to the virus at school, giving excuses such as toothaches or ear infections for their children’s absence, according to social media posts following a state media report that tests would the city comes to an end.
Other cities, including Yanji in the northeast and Hefei in the east, also said they will suspend routine community COVID testing, according to official notices, halting a practice that has become a major fiscal burden for communities across China.
On Friday, the National Health Commission updated its COVID rules in the most significant loosening of curbs yet, describing the changes as an “optimization” of its measures to ease the impact on people’s lives, even as China sticks to its almost zero-COVID policy. three years into the pandemic.
The move, which cut quarantine times for close contacts of cases and travelers in by two days, to a total of eight days, was applauded by investors, although many experts do not expect China to begin easing significantly until March or April at the earliest.
The changes come even as several major cities including Beijing recorded record infections on Monday, challenging authorities to scramble to quickly stamp out cases while trying to minimize the impact on people’s lives and the economy.
Some areas in Beijing require daily testing.
The concern and confusion in Shijiazhuang was a top five trending topic on the Twitter-like Weibo.
The city’s Communist Party chief Zhang Chaochao said its “optimization” of prevention measures should not be seen as authorities “lying flat” – an expression for inaction – and Shijiazhuang is not moving towards “full liberation” from curbs COVID.
The city, about 295 kms (183 miles) southwest of Beijing, reported 544 infections for Sunday, of which only three were categorized as symptomatic.
“I’m a little scared. In the future, public places will not look at nucleic acid tests, and nucleic acid test points will also be closed, everyone needs to pay for the tests,” one Weibo user wrote, referring to Shijiazhuang.
Gavekal Research said in a note on Monday that it was “curious timing” for China to relax its COVID policies: “The combination of escalating cases and the relaxation of central requirements has led to debate over whether China is now gradually moving to a de facto policy of tolerating Covid,” he said.
Nationwide, 16,072 new locally transmitted cases were reported by the National Health Commission, up from 14,761 on Sunday and the most in China since April 25, when Shanghai battled an outbreak and locked down the city for two months.
Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Zhengzhou recorded their worst days so far, although in the capital the count was a few hundred cases, while other cities counted in the thousands.
Case numbers are small compared to infection levels in other countries, but China’s insistence on clearing cases as soon as they emerge under its no-COVID policy has widely disrupted daily life and the economy .
Under the new rules unveiled on Friday, individuals, neighborhoods and public spaces can still be subject to lockdowns, but the health commission relaxed some measures.
In addition to shortening quarantines, secondary close contacts are no longer identified and isolated – eliminating what has been a major inconvenience for people caught up in contact tracing efforts when a case is detected.
Despite the easing of curbs, many experts described the measures as incremental, 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 the no-Covid policy posed a downside for near-term economic losses.
Reporting by Liz Lee, Jason Xue, Wang Jing and Ryan Woo; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore, Tony Munroe and Emelia Sithole-Matarise
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