China announced Wednesday that regular mandatory COVID testing for most people would end immediately, along with a slew of other changes to the zero-COVID policy following protests against the government restrictions.
The Chinese government plans to cut back on the number of COVID-19 tests performed on a large scale. People no longer have to line up to be swabbed and, instead, antigen kits can be used, according to a new memo from China’s National Health Commission released on Wednesday, which lists 10 points to slow the virus’ spread.
For people who test positive for COVID-19, the government is rolling out a policy for home isolation. This means that people will not have to be taken to facilities to recover, and those with “mild cases” or infections with no symptoms will be able to remain at home.
As part of its changes to the zero-COVID policy, the Chinese government has told pharmacies that they must operate normally and not close down at will. Beijing also said it would make a new effort to get as many older people vaccinated as possible, especially those over 80.
Local governments have also been told not to use temporary blockades, which were used frequently during lockdowns, and to ensure that emergency exits are not blocked.
The changes to COVID policy might be a nod by the health commission acknowledging the building fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, in which 10 people died because they were locked in COVID quarantine and could not get out of their barricaded apartment complex. The fire in Xinjiang was one of the causes of the protests across China.
Two weeks after the protests, most of the unrest has died down due to the strong presence of police and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s slow removal of pandemic restrictions.
As part of its strict approach to controlling the virus since the pandemic started, the Chinese government has been able to persuade most people in the country that COVID is a dangerous and often deadly threat to public health, CBS reported. The change in rules on Wednesday made people worry again.
“Is zero-COVID better, or should we learn to live with the virus?” a man preparing for a swim told CBS News. “This government flip-flop … I’m just not sure which side to pick.”
He said he decided not to get a coronavirus vaccine and was trying to avoid COVID by taking freezing dips to strengthen his immune system.