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Zero No More! Part 1

Just after we posted an article about China’s continued adherence to Zero COVID policies, Beijing has completely shifted the nation’s plan. After three years of strict adherence to Zero COVID, it seems that Beijing is finally giving in to social unrest and easing COVID-related restrictions. Many news outlets, including CNN, have posted excellent rundowns of the main changes, which we have summarised here. The following article breaks down the government’s major changes and how those will affect the lives of Chinese citizens, which in turn will affect the global economy.

No more QR Codes

Since the early days of the pandemic, China has used health codes on mobile phones to track individuals’ health statuses. The colour of these codes –red, amber or green – decides whether users can leave their homes, use public transport and enter public places, or potentially need to quarantine. Under the guidelines released Wednesday, people will be able to enter most places without showing a negative test result or their health code – a significant step after nearly three years of disruption to people’s daily routines and livelihoods. Only a few exceptions will still require these checks, including nursing homes, medical institutions and secondary schools. Businesses can now determine their own prevention and control policies, the report added.

Home quarantine allowed

In another massive change, asymptomatic Covid patients or those with mild symptoms will be allowed to quarantine at home instead of being taken to a government facility, unless they choose otherwise. Patients whose condition deteriorates will be transferred to hospital for treatment, the report said. Close contacts can also quarantine at home. Throughout the pandemic, Chinese residents have described the chaos and stress of going into quarantine camps, many saying it was unclear when they would be allowed to leave, and others complaining of crowded or poor conditions. In several cases, health workers reportedly killed the pets of those taken to government quarantine, citing health risks – triggering outrage on Chinese social media each time. Others criticized the policy after reports earlier this year of elderly residents being forced out of their homes in the middle of the night for transport to quarantine.

Limits on lockdown

The new guidelines also urge authorities to “ensure the normal functioning of society and basic medical services,” saying areas that aren’t designated high-risk should not restrict people’s movements or close businesses. Lockdowns are only allowed in “high-risk areas,” and even then, should be “promptly” lifted if no new cases are found for five consecutive days, it said. It added that authorities are forbidden from blocking fire escapes, apartment or building entrances, and other gates, so residents can still evacuate and seek medical attention if needed.

This particular guideline comes at a particularly sensitive time, with China still reeling from a wave of rare public protest in late November and early December, that had been triggered by a deadly fire in the far western Xinjiang region. Public fury had swept the nation after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures had delayed firefighters from reaching the victims. During the protests, thousands across the country took to the streets to call for an end to lockdowns and other zero-Covid measures – with some voicing broader grievances against censorship and the ruling Communist Party’s authoritarian leadership.