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.
The State Council on Wednesday also emphasized the need to accelerate Covid vaccination among the elderly, saying all locations should be “administrating as many vaccinations as possible.” Covid-19 control workers move away barriers used during virus screening at a railway station in Hangzhou in east China’s Zhejiang province on Monday. As China moves away from zero-Covid, health experts warn of dark days ahead While the Omicron variant is milder than previous strains and China’s overall vaccination rate is high, experts say even a small number of severe cases among vulnerable and under-vaccinated groups like the elderly could overwhelm hospitals if infections spike across the country of 1.4 billion.
More than 86% of China’s population over 60 are fully vaccinated, according to China’s National Health Commission. That leaves around 25 million who have not received any shot, according to a comparison of official population figures and November 28 vaccination data. But booster rates are lower, with more than 45 million of the fully vaccinated elderly yet to receive an additional shot. For the most at-risk over 80 age group, around two-thirds were fully vaccinated, but only 40% had received booster shots as of November 11, according to state media.
The rules also make domestic travel within China easier, with cross-regional travelers no longer needing to provide a negative test result or their health code – or test upon arrival. These former requirements, as well as other travel restrictions such as provincial border closures and provincial train and bus suspensions, have made domestic travel difficult over the last few years. For the many in China who left their hometowns to find work in other cities and provinces, that meant being separated from family for long stretches – or being stranded far from home without an income during snap lockdowns.
In recent days, some social media users have pointed out that Lunar New Year is just a month away – the country’s biggest annual holiday, a time when people typically travel home to gather with family, akin to the American Thanksgiving. For some, the prospect of mass nationwide travel has raised concern of the virus spreading once more. Others, long fatigued with the toll of zero-Covid, greeted the news with relief.
“I haven’t been home for Chinese New Year for two years now, I’m crying,” one person said on Weibo. Another wrote: “It’s been a long time. Welcome home.”
Medicine, schools, and monitoring
A few other guidelines are also likely to ease the transition away from zero-Covid toward a less disruptive model. For instance, schools without Covid outbreaks are now asked to carry out “normal offline teaching activities,” and to reopen on-campus facilities such as cafeterias, libraries and sports venues. Schools with Covid cases can continue “normal teaching and living,” as long as they designate certain “risk areas” with control measures.
The guidelines also emphasize the need to make medicine widely accessible, dropping restrictions that previously made it difficult to buy cold and fever medication in pharmacies. Since early in the pandemic, China has required a prescription and negative Covid test to buy these. Perhaps reflecting public concern that the relaxation in rules could cause a surge in cases, residents have rushed to drug stores, with reports last week that cold and fever medicines were flying off shelves.
The State Council also urged doctors and local medical institutions to continue closely monitoring the health situation of key populations, including the risks posed to elderly or immunocompromised residents. Some experts have warned that a broader reopening inevitably brings health risks, especially to those vulnerable groups, but in economic terms, this news is nothing but positive.