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China Begins Easing Zero-COVID Measures After Protests Erupt

China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan signaled to national health officials that the country is entering a “new stage and mission” as some restrictions in significant cities begin to be lifted. This comes on the heels of unprecedented protests against zero-COVID lockdowns in cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Guangzhou.


“With decreasing toxicity of the Omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate, and the accumulating experience of outbreak control and prevention, China’s pandemic containment faces (a) new stage and mission,” she said on Wednesday. China’s zero-COVID policy, championed by President Xi Jinping, has come under harsh scrutiny from citizens as COVID cases hit record numbers across the country while millions are watching the World Cup. Snap lockdowns, school closures, and forced quarantine have been a reality for hundreds of millions of people as the communist regime has struggled to balance overwhelming its medical system with economic recovery and personal freedom.


According to Xinhua, Sun was speaking with health experts praising China’s policy before pivoting to suggestions on improving current measures. She emphasized that China should take a more “humane approach” to tackling future outbreaks while encouraging vaccinations to fight the disease. 90% of China’s population is vaccinated, but the elderly population has lagged, with 65.7% over 80 receiving the jab. On Thursday, restaurants, bars, KTVs, and other private venues began to reopen around Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, but security remained tight.


Chinese state media has not reported on the protests, some of which have turned violent. Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou rioted and clashed with security forces on November 24 in a blatant rebuke of harsh living conditions. The iPhone manufacturer was hit with a COVID outbreak in October, which led to a lockdown and caused many frustrated workers to flee the factory.


Other protests in Guangzhou and Shanghai have been met with swift action from authorities. They have since died down. Police were out in full force around Wulumuqi Road in Shanghai, where protesters gathered over the weekend in response to a fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, that killed ten people. Zero-COVID policies were blamed as first responders could not reach the building because of barricades erected to keep people inside over fear of the virus. Reports of residents being sealed in their homes are unconfirmed, but similar measures have been implemented in other cities during the pandemic.


According to Reuters, China may soon allow people who test positive to quarantine at home, a sharp about-face in the policy. This includes pregnant women, older adults, and asymptomatic cases, although the situation remains fluid. The Beijinger, a Beijing ex-pat publication, confirms first-hand accounts of local and foreign residents who have avoided centralized quarantine. Massive COVID hospitals are currently being constructed outside Beijing and Guangzhou to meet rising case numbers.


The hashtag “Omicron pathogenicity weakened significantly” went viral on Thursday on the Chinese micro-blogging platform Weibo. This starkly contrasts with videos of protests being deleted or censored on the popular social media app WeChat this past week, with reports of users being ‘shadow banned’ for dissenting against zero-COVID or the communist regime more broadly. However, the sheer volume of videos documenting the protests momentarily overwhelmed the censored state, allowing the international community a brief glimpse into the chaos. The trickle of information has since ceased as authorities clamp down on online platforms.


As China begins to ease some restrictions, Beijing recorded a daily record of 5,006 cases on Thursday. The conflicting narratives mark a turning point for the authoritarian regime that may see popular dissent as a more significant threat to its grasp on power than a diminished Omicron variant that the rest of the world has decided to live with.

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Tags: #COVID #china #censorship #revolution #protests #beijing #xinjiang


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