- No need for regular COVID testing in different cities
- China eased several virus restrictions last Friday
- Communities concerned about virus spread under relaxed rules
- Major cities, including Beijing, report record cases for November 13
BEIJING, Nov. 14 (Reuters) – Several Chinese cities began reducing routine community COVID-19 testing on Monday, days after China announced an easing of some of its heavy-handed coronavirus measures, sparking concern in some communities as the number of rural cases continued to increase.
In the northern city of Shijiazhuang, some families have expressed concern about exposing their children to the virus at school, with excuses such as toothache or earache for their children’s absence, according to social media posts following a state media report that the testing in the city would end.
Other cities, including Yanji in the northeast and Hefei in the east, also said they will stop routine COVID testing in the community, according to official announcements, halting a practice that has become a major fiscal burden on communities. throughout China.
On Friday, the National Health Commission updated its COVID rules in the most significant curb easing yet, describing the changes as an “optimization” of its measures to mitigate the impact on people’s lives, even as China hangs on. to its zero-COVID policy nearly three years after the pandemic.
The move, which shortened quarantine times for close contacts from business and inbound travelers by two days to eight days in total, was welcomed by investors, although many experts don’t expect China to begin significant easing in March or April at the earliest.
The changes come even as several major cities, including Beijing, registered record infections on Monday, posing a challenge to authorities who are scrambling to quickly quell outbreaks while trying to minimize the impact on people’s lives and the economy.
Some parts of Beijing require daily tests.
The concern and confusion in Shijiazhuang has been a top five trending topic on Twitter-like Weibo.
The city’s Communist Party head Zhang Chaochao said the “optimization” of prevention measures should not be seen as authorities “laying down” – an expression of passivity – nor is Shijiazhuang moving towards “complete liberation” from COVID -limits.
The city, about 295 km (183 miles) southwest of Beijing, reported 544 infections on Sunday, of which only three were classified as symptomatic.
“I’m a little scared. In the future, public places will not look at nucleic acid testing, and nucleic acid testing points will also be closed, everyone has to pay for the tests,” wrote one Weibo user, referring to Shijiazhuang.
Gavekal Research said in a note Monday that it was “strange timing” for China to ease its COVID policy: “The combination of an intensification of the outbreak and easing of central requirements has sparked debate as to whether China now gradually transitioning to a de facto tolerating Covid policy,” it reads.
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 that locked the city for two months.
Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Zhengzhou all had their worst days yet, though in the capital the number had fallen by a few hundred while the other cities numbered thousands.
The number of cases is small compared to infection levels in other countries, but China’s insistence on clearing outbreaks as soon as they occur under its zero-COVID policy has disrupted daily life and the economy on a large scale.
Under the new rules unveiled on Friday, individuals, neighborhoods and public areas can still be closed, but the health commission has relaxed some measures.
In addition to shortening quarantines, secondary close contacts are no longer identified and placed in isolation — causing what had been a major inconvenience to people who became entangled in contact tracing efforts when a case is found.
Despite the easing of the curbs, many experts described the measures as incremental, with some predicting that China is unlikely to start at the earliest after the March parliamentary session.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs said on Monday that increasing cases in cities like Guangzhou and Chongqing and the continuation of zero-COVID policies pose downside economic risks in the near term.
Reporting by Liz Lee, Jason Xue, Wang Jing and Ryan Woo; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Tony Munroe and Emelia Sithole-Matarise
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.