China announced the most sweeping changes to its tough anti-Covid regime yet on Wednesday, loosening rules that have hobbled the world’s second largest economy.
China’s national health authority announced asymptomatic Covid-19 cases and people with mild symptoms can now quarantine at home. The agency also scrapped the need for mandatory testing for people travelling within the country.
It’s being seen as the strongest sign yet that Beijing is preparing its 1.4 billion people to live with the disease.
High-risk areas should be accurately defined by building, unit, floor and household, and must not be arbitrarily expanded to entire residential compounds and communities, the NHC said.
It also urged localities to “resolutely rectify simplified, one-size-fits-all measures” for Covid prevention and to reject and overcome “formalism and bureaucracy”.
The health authority listed a total of 10 new guidelines, which followed 20 measures released on November 11 aimed at “optimising” Covid prevention and control protocols.
The easing of rules follows last month’s historic protests against tough Covid policies in cities across China that marked the biggest show of public discontent on the mainland since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
For nearly three years, China has managed Covid-19 as a dangerous disease on a par with bubonic plague and cholera. Earlier in the year, whole communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after even just one positive case was found.
Last week, however, top officials acknowledged the reduced ability of the virus to cause disease and implemented less strict quarantine rules that required just the lockdown of affected buildings.
’Time for China to return to the world’
Even though the country’s borders remain mostly shut, Chinese citizens cheered the policy shift.
The announcement quickly soared to be the top most viewed topic on China’s Weibo platform, with many people cheering the prospect of travelling.
“It’s time for our lives to return to normal and for China to return to the world,” wrote one Weibo user.
Some users expressed worries, meanwhile, about the greater potential for infections.
Analysts, too, welcomed the shift that could reinvigorate China’s sagging economy and currency and bolster global growth.
“This change of policy is a big step forward,” said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management. “I expect China will fully reopen its border no later than mid-2023.”
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena