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China set to relax more COVID-19 curbs

Three years of zero-COVID restrictions have battered China's citizens and its economy.

Three years of zero-COVID restrictions have battered China's citizens and its economy. Photo: AP

China may announce 10 new COVID-19 easing measures as early as Wednesday, two Reuters sources say, supplementing 20 unveiled in November that set off a wave of COVID easing steps nationwide.

Three years of zero-tolerance measures, from shuttered borders to frequent lockdowns, have battered China’s economy, fuelling last month the mainland’s biggest show of public discontent since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

Management of the disease may be downgraded as soon as January, to the less strict Category B from the current top-level Category A of infectious disease, the sources said on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The National Health Commission did not immediately respond to a Reuters fax message seeking comment.

Major cities have started to lift wide lockdowns

Last week, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said China was facing “a new situation” as pathogenicity of the Omicron virus weakened, becoming the first high-ranking official to publicly acknowledge the new variant’s disease-causing ability had diminished.

Many major cities have since started to lift wide lockdowns, reduce regular PCR testing and end checks for negative tests in public spaces, such as subway stations and parks.

The national health authority had earlier announced a score of new measures on November 11, in the effort to improve COVID management and strike a better balance between epidemic control and shoring up the economy.

China will allow home quarantine for some of those testing positive, among the supplementary measures set to be announced, two sources told Reuters last week.

Quarantine rules to be changed

That would be a key change in strategy from earlier this year, when entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after just one positive case.

Last month, new, easier quarantine rules required just the lockdown of affected buildings.

Since January 2020, China has classified COVID-19 as a Category B infectious disease but managed it under Category A protocols, giving local authorities the power to quarantine patients and their close contacts and lock down regions.

Category A covers diseases such as bubonic plague and cholera, while Category B groups SARS, AIDS and anthrax, with diseases such as influenza, leprosy and mumps placed in Category C.

But more than 95 per cent of China’s cases are asymptomatic and mild, with few deaths. In such circumstances, sticking to the Category A strategy was not in line with science, state media outlet Yicai said on Sunday, citing an unidentified expert.

COVID-19 could be downgraded to Category B management or even Category C, the expert told Yicai.

-Reuters

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