Home News Beijing seems to want to lighten the “zero Covid”

Beijing seems to want to lighten the “zero Covid”

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Will Beijing loosen the screw? Chinese health authorities have given the first signs of a possible relaxation of their strict “zero Covid” policy, after a wave of angry demonstrations against health restrictions and for more freedoms.

China, the reasons for the revolt

China’s approach to the virus “faces new circumstances and new tasks”, thanks to the less dangerous nature of the Omicron variant and the advancement of vaccination, said Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, speaking on Wednesday before the National Health Commission (NHC). On Tuesday, Beijing had already decided to accelerate the vaccination of the elderly, which is still insufficient.

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A central figure in China’s strategy in the face of the pandemic, Sun Chunlan made no mention of the “zero Covid” policy in his remarks – according to comments reported by the state agency New China -, giving hope that this strategy , which for three years has upset the daily life of the Chinese and the country’s economy, would soon be relaxed.

An overwhelmed population

Exasperated by repeated confinements and almost daily PCR tests, thousands of Chinese demonstrated last weekend, in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or even Wuhan – where the first cases had been detected in December 2019. For the communist authorities , it is the most widespread wave of protest since the pro-democracy mobilizations of Tiananmen in 1989.

Taken by surprise, they called for the ” repression “ to contain this movement, but also seem to give a pledge on the health policy front.

Thus, in the industrial megalopolis of Canton (south), where Tuesday clashes had opposed demonstrators and the police, the confinement in place for several weeks was lifted, despite the record contamination figures.

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Can the demonstrations against the “zero Covid” policy make the Chinese regime tremble?

Because, if the figures are indeed among the highest since the start of the pandemic, they remain tiny: 35,800 local cases reported on Thursday, out of a population of 1.4 billion inhabitants and with a vast majority of asymptomatic cases.

Restrictions have been eased, to varying degrees, in Guangzhou’s 11 districts, including Haizhu, the epicenter of the protests. With the exception of a few neighborhoods considered “high risk”according to the Local Health Commission, “the others are managed as low-risk areas”.

The city of Chongqing (center) also announced on Wednesday that contact cases meeting certain conditions would be entitled to carry out their quarantine at home, a clear change from the policy applied until then which imposed on all – positive cases and contacts − to go to a quarantine centre.

These reliefs at the local level, as well as Sun Chunlan’s statements, “could be a sign that China is starting to consider the end of its strict zero Covid policy”say analysts at ANZ Research in a note.

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“We believe Chinese authorities are shifting to a ‘living with Covid’ strategy, as evidenced by new rules that allow people to self-isolate at home instead of being transported to quarantine centers. »they add.

Thursday morning, two major Chinese newspapers published expert remarks to reassure the non-dangerousness of Covid in the majority of cases, after similar publications in recent days which seem to prepare the population for a change of mentality.

The deadly Urumqi fire

As we approach the third anniversary of the first cases detected in Wuhan, it is clear that the inhabitants are tired.

A deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of the northwest Xinjiang region, sparked protests over the weekend, with some netizens blaming health restrictions for hampering rescue work.

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But the demonstrators also chanted political demands, some even demanding the departure of President Xi Jinping, renewed last month for an unprecedented third term. Authorities’ tight control over information and health restrictions on travel within China make it difficult to assess the total number of protesters in the country.

In China, the suicidal hubris of Xi Jinping

But such a widespread uprising is rare, given the crackdown on any form of frontal opposition to the government.

The mobilizations of 1989 ended in bloody repression when the army intervened, notably on the famous Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

On Wednesday, when the death of former President Jiang Zemin, who came to power just after Tiananmen, was announced, the Communist Party rightly underlined its ability to restore calm during this uprising.

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