China eases anti-COVID restrictions amid policy change

  • The National Health Agency announces 10 new measures
  • China to hold press conference on COVID steps at 0700 GMT
  • Residents are rushing to buy medicines fearing the spread of the virus

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 7 (Reuters) – China said on Wednesday it would allow COVID patients with mild symptoms to self-isolate at home as part of a series of new measures that mark a big shift in strict anti-virus policies , which has hit its economy and sparked historic protests.

The relaxation of rules, which includes removing the requirement for people to present negative tests when traveling between regions, came as senior officials toned down warnings about the dangers of COVID-19.

That has raised prospects that Beijing may be trying to slowly align with the rest of the world and reopen its economy three years after a pandemic that broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Investors were quick to salute the prospect of respite for the world’s second-largest economy and the possibility of a move towards lifting border controls next year.

“This policy change is a big step forward,” said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management.

“I assume that China will fully open its border again by mid-2023 at the latest.”

China will hold a press conference at 15:00 (07:00 GMT) to “tweak” its COVID control measures, state media reported after President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo on Tuesday.

Cities across China were gripped by protests against tough COVID policies late last month, in the biggest public discontent since Xi took power in 2012.

As those protests died down in a matter of days amid a heavy police presence, cities and regions across the country began announcing a mix of relaxation measures, fueling expectations for Wednesday’s announcement.

Many of the steps taken by individual cities or regions were reflected in the list of policy changes issued by the National Health Agency on Wednesday.

But the loosening of curbs has prompted a rush for preventative drugs as some residents, particularly the unvaccinated elderly, feel more vulnerable to the virus.

Authorities across the country have warned of tight supplies and price gouging by retailers in recent days.

“Please buy rationally, buy as needed, and don’t blindly stock up,” the Beijing Municipal Food and Drug Administration was quoted as saying by the state-run Beijing Evening News.

In Beijing’s upscale Chaoyang district, which is home to most foreign embassies as well as entertainment venues and corporate headquarters, sales of some of these drugs were rapidly declining, according to a local resident.

“Last night the medicines were already in stock, and now many of them are out of stock,” said Zhang, a 33-year-old educator, who gave only his last name.

“The epidemic prevention has been lifted… COVID-19 testing sites are mostly cut down… As the cases in Chaoyang District are quite high at the moment, it’s better to stock up on some medicines,” he said.

Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Sophie Yu, Ryan Woo, Bernard Orr and the newsroom in Beijing; writing by John Geddie; Edited by Simon Cameron Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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