In face of growing public discontent against the strict restraint on economic and social activities, on December 7, the Chinese government followed up on its earlier redesign of the zero covid policy and carried out a set of new protocols called “the Ten New Codes”.
According to the codes, lockdown measures are now permitted only in highly risky regions and shall end sooner, and centralized quarantine camps are largely replaced by quarantine at home. Any restrictions on people flow and any production and business pauses are forbidden. Negative test results and green health QR codes are no longer required for people entering public buildings or traveling between cities. Also, schools should restart in-person classes and other services including grocery stores, dining halls, sports stadiums, and libraries.
To accommodate such abandonment of the long insisted “Dynamic zero Covid policy”, the codes forbid local pharmacies to limit the sales of relevant over-the-counter medicines. Local governments and health institutions are also urged to clarify the vaccination status of elderlies (those aged 60 or higher) with underlying diseases and boost their vaccination rate.
With people flooding out to return to their normal social life, covid cases have been rising since early November at an unprecedented rate, reported the National Health Commission of China, with waves of infections bursting in multiple provinces as well as major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Patients tested positive or suspected that they were infected because they showed syndromes crowded to local hospitals, which might have caused even more infections. According to the New York Times Chinese Edition, shortages of various medicines, including antipyretics and antiviral drugs in local pharmacies, were reported.
All these triggered panic among the Chinese public. On social media, more and more people posted about their being tested positive and feeling ill with considerable syndromes. More importantly, public opinions seem to shift again, with more people reminiscing about the old lockdown days, which, as called by them, is a period of civil governmental protection shielding them away from the atrocious virus, reported the specialists from BBC China. Meanwhile, many Chinese consider that the process of herd community can't be avoided and thus would better be tackled with calmness.
Different parties have expressed concerns about China’s abrupt opening. According to the United States Department of State, the uncontrolled spread of the virus in China may risk a new variant like Delta and Omicron, which may once again weaken the effectiveness of vaccines and restart the pandemic around the globe. If needed, the US is willing to provide aid to China including American-made vaccines and medicines. On December 18, WHO also pointed out that the number of deaths by covid in China might be underestimated, and a strategy to ameliorate the spread is to adopt more effective vaccines and boost vaccination rates, especially among weaker populations like elderly people with underlying diseases.
Regarding the comments made by the US State Department, Mao Ning, the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, responded that China's covid policies always put people and life first, which, as facts have shown, have protected people's lives to the greatest extent possible and minimized the impact on economic development. According to Mao, relevant governmental departments are now earnestly implementing new epidemic prevention policies. China is ready to work with the international community to tackle the pandemic and promote the healthy development of the world economy, claimed Mao. Chinese public opinion also condemned US actions as an arrogant intervention into China’s internal affairs, which seem intolerable given “the US’s poor performance combating the pandemic”. Like other issues before, the covid issue in China has sparked a new wave of disagreements among different players on the table. Its future is far from ascertained.
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