A Chinese city tiptoeing away from zero-Covid

A Chinese city tiptoeing away from zero-Covid

The northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang has tiptoed away from Beijing’s most draconian pandemic measures, in what some see as a test for a gradual withdrawal of the country’s strict zero-Covid policy. President Xi Jinping.

As policymakers scramble to find a way forward for the country amid rising infections and a devastated economy, the city of 11million has reduced Covid-19 testing nationwide the population this week, despite an Omicron wave in the region. Public transportation systems and some shopping malls, restaurants and office buildings have stopped checking for negative entrance test results, a common practice in many cities.

The change comes after China’s cabinet last week unveiled a package of measures to ease the country’s pandemic policies. That prompted cities across the country to scale back testing, raising market hopes that China could be subtly moving away from zero-Covid.

Other clues came from Guangzhou, the manufacturing hub of southern China, where local authorities failed to impose a full lockdown on the city even though it recorded 5,124 new cases on Monday.

The changes in Shijiazhuang have come under an onslaught of local media attention, prompting the city’s top official, Communist Party Secretary Zhang Chaochao, to deny on Monday that the city was trying to live with it. Covid.

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“We’re not giving up in any way, or totally giving up,” he said during a visit to a local university struggling with a rise in coronavirus cases. “It’s absolutely not a so-called total opening.”

On Tuesday morning, the city also promised to reopen some of the Covid testing booths dotting the city’s streets, which had been closed days before, as public backlash against living with Covid grew.

Residents who spoke to the Financial Times said they still feared the virus and some schools, office buildings and hotels continued to require Covid test results for entry. That caused throngs of people to line up at city hospitals, which continued to administer tests for a fee.

“I’m a little scared because I don’t know what will happen next,” said Li Yang, a real estate broker in the city. “But we have to deal with it. Openness is the trend and people have to live on.

Li said he has stopped working for the time being. “Many of my clients – landlords – do not allow strangers into their apartments [anymore],” he said.

Five Shijiazhuang residents said the fluid situation made them nervous and the official tally of 440 cases on Tuesday underestimated the extent of the outbreak after the testing program was scaled back.

Posts on social media showed parents pulling their children out of schools, and local media reported that pharmacies were running out of Lianhua Qingwen, a herbal remedy believed to ease coronavirus symptoms. Searches for oxygen machines have increased by 400% on Tencent’s WeChat app.

“I don’t want to bring the virus back to my family,” said Mr. Gu, a 23-year-old resident. He was just venturing into his office, which was no longer checking his Covid test results, he said.

The rapidly changing situation highlights the difficulties faced by local officials in interpreting Beijing’s new measures.

“On the one hand, we were told to relax the overly strict Covid prevention rules. On the other hand, we could always be fired for not clearing cases in time,” said a community official from Zhengding. , a county under Shijiazhuang.”Our political goals conflict with each other.”

Meanwhile, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily published an opinion piece on Tuesday that again called on the country “to unremittingly implement the dynamic zero-Covid policy”.

“It’s a pretty confusing situation. [in Shijiazhuang]said Ting Lu, an economist at Nomura. “Maybe it’s a pilot city for living with Covid and maybe not – politics in China is hard to interpret. It’s worth watching closely.”

Additional reporting by Nian Liu in Beijing

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