China is entering a “new phase and mission” for Covid-19 controls after protests, an official says


China’s top official in charge of its Covid response told health officials on Wednesday that the country is facing a “new phase and mission” in pandemic control, state media Xinhua reported — possibly reflecting an adjustment from Beijing’s “zero -Covid” strategy that has sparked days of nationwide protests.

“With the decreasing toxicity of the Omicron variant, the rising vaccination rate, and accumulated experience in outbreak control and prevention, China’s pandemic containment is facing a new stage and mission,” China’s Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said Wednesday, according to Xinhua.

Her remarks, with no mention of “zero-Covid,” came a day after China’s National Health Commission (NHC), as reported by Xinhua, said rectification of the current pandemic measures is underway and that local governments should “act on the reasonable demands and they solve the masses” in time.

In a meeting with the NHC on Wednesday, Sun also said that a “people-centric approach” should be taken and China should improve its “diagnosis, testing, treatment and quarantine” measures and keep increasing vaccination rates — particularly among the elderly — and stock up on drugs and medical resources.

Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan did not mention this

The toned-down rhetoric comes as officials in Guangzhou indicated they might be easing lockdown measures to contain Covid-19 after protesters clashed with police in the southern metropolis on Tuesday night.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Zhang Yi, a spokesman for the Guangzhou Health Commission, said the city had adjusted the designation of risk levels and measures to contain the pandemic – to varying degrees – in all of its 11 counties.

Lockdowns in four districts — namely Liwan, Baiyun, Tianhe and Haizhu — have been lifted, while lockdowns in areas designated as high-risk remain in place.

Guangzhou will stop sending all close contacts of Covid-19 patients to central quarantine facilities and allow some to self-isolate at home if they meet the requirements, Zhang said.

The city will also no longer conduct district-wide mass Covid-19 testing. “All districts should conduct testing in a scientific manner,” Zhang added.

As of Tuesday, Guangzhou reported 6,995 new local cases, Zhang said. China reported 37,612 new local cases nationwide as of Tuesday, the NHC said on Wednesday.

China has acted quickly to quell demonstrations that have erupted across the country in recent days against the government’s zero-Covid policy, deploying police forces to key protest sites and tightening online censorship.

The protests were triggered last Thursday by a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of the westernmost region of Xinjiang. The fire killed at least 10 people and injured nine at an apartment building – sparking public anger after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures had prevented firefighters from reaching the victims.

Public protests are extremely rare in China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, wiped out much of civil society, and built a high-tech surveillance state.

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