China softens tone on COVID severity after protests

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1 December 2022

China is softening its tone on the severity of COVID-19 and easing some coronavirus restrictions even as its daily case toll hovers near record highs, after anger over the world’s toughest curbs fuelled protests across the country.

Several cities in the world’s second-largest economy, while still reporting new infections, are breaking with practice by lifting district lockdowns and allowing businesses to reopen.

Health authorities announcing the relaxation of measures did not mention the protests, which ranged from candle-lit vigils in Beijing to clashes with the police on the streets of Guangzhou on Tuesday and at an iPhone factory in Zhengzhou last week.


The demonstrations marked the biggest show of civil disobedience in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago and come as the economy is set to enter a new era of much slower growth than seen in decades.


Despite near-record case numbers, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said the virus’s ability to cause disease was weakening, state media reported.


“The country is facing a new situation and new tasks in epidemic prevention and control as the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus weakens, more people are vaccinated and experience in containing the virus is accumulated,” Sun said in comments reported in state media.


Sun also urged further “optimisation” of testing, treatment and quarantine policies.


The mention of a weakening pathogenicity contrasts with earlier messages from authorities about the deadliness of the virus.

Less than 24 hours after violent protests in Guangzhou, authorities in at least seven districts of the sprawling manufacturing hub north of Hong Kong, said they were lifting temporary lockdowns. One district said it would allow in-person classes in schools to resume and would reopen restaurants and other businesses including cinemas.