It's around the three-year anniversary of when COVID was first recognized in China. And China still has some of the strongest COVID curbs in the world to limit its spread. Pockets of protests against the restrictions began to crop up recently, and globally people have wondered if and when China might open back up to the world. But, last week, officials in some places began to show signs of a turning point in the country's approach to COVID, as some lockdowns were lifted and other restrictions lessened to reduce the impact on daily life.
Now, it seems China is shifting direction when it comes to its COVID approach. For example, Shanghai is ditching PCR testing requirements to enter public outdoor venues and to go on public transit. Hangzhou and Zhengzhou also announced similar plans. And, in Beijing, buying fever, cough and sore throat medicine won't require registration anymore. In lots of places, people are now allowed to quarantine at home if they test positive for COVID rather than in a government facliity. Plus, China's President Xi reportedly told an EU official that omicron was the main strain going around the country and that it wasn't as strong.
"Although there have been quite a few local changes to COVID policies lately, we do not interpret them as China abandoning zero-COVID policy just yet. Rather, we see them as clear evidence of the Chinese government preparing for an exit, and trying to minimize the economic and social cost of COVID control in the meantime. The preparations may last a few months and there are likely to be challenges along the way," Goldman Sachs said in a note on Sunday.
"It's really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain," said the WHO's emergencies director, Dr. Michael Ryan, on Friday, referring to the UN's take on China loosening some COVID curbs.
Beijing authorities said on Saturday that it is still necessary to "unswervingly continue to implement normalized social prevention and control measures."
"This looks like another sign that China is laying groundwork for an exit from Covid Zero," said Gabriel Wildau, managing director at advisory firm Teneo Holdings in New York. "For Xi and the rest of the party leadership, it's important to signal both domestically and internationally that any shift is based on public health considerations, not political pressure from street protests.