China announces loosening of Covid restrictions

China announced Wednesday a nationwide loosening of Covid restrictions following protests against the hardline strategy that grew into calls for greater political freedoms.

Anger over China's zero-Covid policy - which involved mass lockdowns, constant testing and quarantines even for people who are not infected - stoked unrest not seen since the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

Under the new guidelines announced by the National Health Commission, the frequency and scope of PCR testing - long a tedious mainstay of life in zero-Covid China - will be reduced.

Lockdowns will also be scaled down and people with non-severe Covid cases can isolate at home instead of centralised government facilities.

And people will no longer be required to show a green health code on their phone to enter public buildings and spaces, except for "nursing homes, medical institutions, kindergartens, middle and high schools".

The new rules scrap the forced quarantines for people with no symptoms or with mild cases.

"Asymptomatic infected persons and mild cases who are eligible for home isolation are generally isolated at home, or they can voluntarily choose centralised isolation for treatment," the new rules read.

"Mass PCR testing only carried out in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and high-risk work units; scope and frequency of PCR testing to be further reduced," they added.

"People travelling across provinces do not need to provide a 48h test result and do not need to test upon arrival."

China will also accelerate the vaccination of the elderly, the NHC said, long seen as a major obstacle to the relaxation of Beijing's no-tolerance approach to Covid.

Wednesday's announcement came hours after the government released further data showing the crippling economic impacts of zero-Covid. Imports and exports plunged in November to levels not seen since early 2020.

Imports in November fell 10.6 percent year-on-year, the biggest drop since May 2020, according to the General Administration of Customs. Exports fell 8.7 percent over the same period.-Fin24