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In China, authorities plan to limit quarantine protocols and mass testing after protests spread in many cities over strict COVID-19 measures.

While the number of cases is still at an all-time high across the country, lockdowns have been lifted in some cities in recent days. A senior official told the Reuters news agency that the ability of the virus to cause disease is declining.

Local health officials did not refer to the protests when they announced the easing. From candle-lit commemorations in the streets of Beijing to clashes with police in Guangzhou, the demonstrations are considered China’s biggest civil disobedience in recent years.

Sources familiar with the matter said measures that need to be relaxed would include steps such as reducing mass testing and regular nucleic acid testing, as well as isolating positive cases and close contacts at home under certain conditions.

The closure of large residential areas in homes under strict measures sometimes lasting weeks, and the fact that it could be implemented even with just one positive case, sparked public anger.

Economic growth expected to slow down in new period

These social tensions have sparked the largest uprisings and demonstrations in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power last week. It seems that the country’s economy will enter a new period in which growth will be slower than in recent years.

Increased police presence in some cities ahead of the weekend leads demonstrators to adopt different tactics. Those on the Shanghai train last night said they received an unannounced document on their phones and the text said that life in China would only improve if the lockdown measures were completely lifted and Xi resigned.

Less than 24 hours after violent protests Tuesday in Guangzhou province, authorities said they were temporarily lifting the closure of at least seven districts. One county noted that schools, restaurants and businesses, including movie theaters, would reopen. The cities of Chongqing and Zhengzhou also announced the opening.

Change Signal from Vice President

In a meeting with experts at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, Vice President Sun Chunlan, in charge of the COVID-19 response, said that the disease-causing ability of the Omicron variant is waning, which could allow China to reconsider its prevention measures. This announcement was followed by a sudden signal of a change in official policy regarding COVID-19 in the country.

“After nearly three years of fighting the epidemic, our country’s medicine and health care system has stood the test,” Sun told the Xinhua news agency.

Sun noted that the vaccination rate among the general population is over 90 percent, and public health awareness and quality have improved significantly.

The state press also gave way to Sun’s words the day before that a new era will dawn in the fight against COVID, in which improvements in testing, treatment and quarantine policies will be implemented.

Sun’s statement, which previously highlighted the deadly danger of the virus and advocated strict measures, sends a strong signal that experts believe the “COVID zero” policy will have to be abandoned in the next few months.

In the capital, Beijing, preparations for change have begun in some areas.

This week, in an online poll in an area in the east of the city, positive cases were voted for home isolation. Previously, these cases were sent to quarantine facilities.

Waiting for the opening of borders

China is expected to reopen its borders at some point next year in an attempt to contain domestic cases. In the meantime, the authorities are trying to increase vaccination rates for older people who are skeptical about vaccination in the country.

Health experts warn that if vaccination does not gain momentum, the disease could spread and deaths could rise.

Chinese stocks and markets around the world tumbled after weekend protests in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities and then rose on hopes that the authorities could take a new approach.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), on the other hand, believes that new waves of COVID could put pressure on China’s economic activity in the near term.

China’s strict measures to combat the pandemic caused a decline in domestic economic activity, which was reflected in other countries in the form of disruptions in the supply chain.

On the other hand, the authorities continue to interrogate those who participated in the protests.

There were at least 27 protests in China between Saturday and Monday, according to a mechanism called the China Dissent Monitor, which tracks opposition movements in China, set up by Freedom House and funded by the US government. According to the Australian think tank ASPI, there were 51 protests in 24 cities.

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