Chinese authorities have conceded that the country is facing a new phase of the pandemic that will require it to change its approach, a sign that the government may finally move away from its strict adherence to the “zero Covid” policy, which has led to draconian lockdowns and sparked unprecedented public protests in parts of the country.
- Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who is leading the country’s response to the pandemic, told the country’s National Health Commission on Wednesday that they are facing a “new situation” as they deal with a virus whose “pathogenicity” is diminishing as vaccination rates increase.
- Sun Chunlan urged health officials to improve examination, treatment and quarantine measures, while stepping up efforts to vaccinate the elderly.
- His speech made no mention of the “Zero Covid” programme, China’s current approach to fighting the virus through harsh quarantine measures and frequent mass testing.
- According to Reuters, authorities in Guangzhou have begun lifting lockdown measures in parts of the city, just a day after mass protests erupted in the industrial hub, as crowds of demonstrators clashed with police in anti-drug gear. Riots in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday.
- Another change in strategy, the report adds, is to allow asymptomatic infected people and those who have been in close contact with infected people to remain in home quarantine rather than in a government center.
- Officials did not mention the ongoing protests against the zero Covid approach, though they likely served as a catalyst for this change.
China continues to see an exponential increase in new Covid-19 cases. The country reported 36,061 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, which is close to the country’s daily record, which was reported earlier this week. However, China’s per capita infection rate is still much lower than most Western countries, including the United States.
With daily Covid-19 case numbers soaring, the effectiveness of the ‘Zero Covid’ strategy has come into question. Growing public discontent with this approach reached a boiling point last week after a fire ripped through a high-rise apartment building in the western Chinese city of Urumqi, killing ten people. The tragedy has raised questions that emergency responders have been hampered by barriers erected around buildings and roads due to a lack of Covid measures. It sparked unprecedented public protests against the government and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, with some demonstrators calling for his resignation.
China’s biggest challenge in reversing its harsh lockdown policy is the low vaccine uptake rate among the elderly. According to the state-controlled China Daily, only 65.7% of people over the age of 80 have been fully vaccinated and 40% have received boosters. Earlier this week, China’s National Health Commission unveiled plans to improve vaccination rates among the elderly. These plans include establishing a greater number of vaccination centers in areas frequented by the elderly and requiring people who refuse to be vaccinated to justify their refusal.
Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: Siladitya Ray
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