Beijing drops some Covid tests as capital ‘prepares for life again’ | China

Beijing has abandoned the need for people to show negative Covid tests to enter supermarkets and offices, the latest in an easing of curbs across China following historic protests.

“Beijing preparing for life again,” read a headline in the state-run China Daily, adding that people are “gradually embracing” the slow return to normal.

Further easing beckons after a series of demonstrations represented the biggest public discontent in mainland China since Xi Jinping took office in 2012.

“This could be the first step in reopening from this pandemic,” said Beijing resident Hu Dongxu, 27, as he swiped his ticket to board the subway, which has also eliminated the need for testing.

In an inner-city area, some supermarkets had already removed signs from entrances asking for a health code. Most shops had reopened in one of the city’s largest malls, which also only required a green health code to enter. The sudden change in restrictions meant few people were still out and about. A worker at one restaurant said they are still only offering takeout, although eating out is now allowed, because they were understaffed and unprepared due to the last minute reopening. However, they said they would likely restart on Wednesday.

Senior officials have softened their tone on the seriousness of the virus, bringing China closer to what other countries have been saying for more than a year as they dropped restrictions and chose to live with Covid-19.

Tong Zhaohui, director of the Beijing Institute of Respiratory Diseases, said the latest Omicron variant has caused less severe cases than the 2009 global flu outbreak, according to Chinese state television.

China could announce 10 new nationwide lockdown measures as early as Wednesday, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, as cities across the country lifted local lockdowns.

That has sparked optimism among investors for a broader reopening of the world’s second largest economy, which could boost global growth.

Despite reassurances from authorities, commuter traffic in major cities like Beijing and Chongqing has remained at a fraction of previous levels.

Some people remain wary of contracting the virus, particularly the elderly, many of whom are unvaccinated, while there are also concerns about the strain loosening could put on China’s fragile healthcare system.

China’s treatment for the disease could be downgraded from the current top-level infectious disease category A to the less stringent category B as early as January.

“The most difficult period is over,” the official Xinhua News Agency said in an op-ed published late Monday, citing the virus’ waning pathogenicity and efforts to vaccinate 90% of the population.

Analysts are predicting that China could reopen the economy sooner than expected next year and drop border controls, with some predicting it will fully open in the spring.

But more than half of Chinese say they will put off foreign travel for periods ranging from several months to more than a year, even if borders reopen tomorrow, a study showed on Tuesday.

Fear of infection was the top concern among those who said they would postpone travel in a survey of 4,000 consumers in China by consultancy Oliver Wyman.

China reported 5,235 cases linked to Covid on Monday. Some experts have warned that the toll could soar to over a million if the exit is too hasty.

With Reuters

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