China has released a 10-point plan in yet another soft rollback of its zero-COVID restrictions.
A new memo outlined a key change: Individual households will be locked down instead of whole cities.
This removes a major point of contention — the mass lockdowns — that sparked protests nationwide.
China is releasing a 10-point plan that rolls back, with immediate effect, some aspects of the country's zero-COVID policy.
On Wednesday, China's National Health Commission released a memo outlining the main changes to its COVID-19 restrictions, one of which involved having "scientifically and accurately" calculated lockdowns. The memo instructs all local governments to only quarantine high-risk "buildings, units, floors, and households," and not whole streets, townships, and cities.
The memo further instructs local governments to not use temporary blockades — a common sight during lockdowns.
"It is strictly forbidden to block fire exits, unit doors, and community doors in various ways to ensure that the public's access to medical treatment and emergency escapes are unobstructed," the memo reads.
Per the announcement, the Chinese government also intends to reduce the scope of mass COVID-19 testing. Antigen kits can now be used instead of having people line up en-masse to be swabbed.
As for its treating people who test positive for COVID-19, the government is rolling out a nationwide policy for home isolation. This means it's no longer mandatory for people to be taken to facilities for recovery, and those with asymptomatic infections and "mild cases" will be allowed to recover at home.
Some of the Chinese government's other changes to the zero-COVID policy include instructions for pharmacies to remain open and not close down at will. Beijing also said it is committing to a renewed push to vaccinate as many elderly people as possible, in particular those over 80.
A soft rollback
These changes are a soft rollback in China's pandemic restrictions, Alfred Wu, an expert on China at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told Insider. And while the relaxation of measures might be a departure from China's 20-point pandemic playbook released in November, it's too soon to say if this marks the end of zero-COVID, Wu added.
"In comparison with the harshest iteration of the zero-COVID strategy, it is still a big step," Wu said. "But I would still consider this a soft rollback, considering Xi — China's most important person — has kept quiet so far about his plans."
Wu added that the 20-point playbook and this 10-point tweak announced on Wednesday are all clear efforts by the Chinese government to reduce anger amongst the people.
"The biggest change to one's daily life in China will likely be not having to do mass-testing," Wu said. "However, if cases were to spike after Chinese New Year, it is hard to say what will happen with the restrictions."
China's policy changes come after protests erupted in every major city
China's zero-COVID policy adjustment comes after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in every major Chinese city to protest government restrictions. These protests, which swept cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Wuhan, saw people holding up blank signs — a new anti-government symbol of dissent— and clashing with the police. Two weeks later, the unrest has largely died down amid a strong police presence and Xi's gradual removal of pandemic restrictions.
The anti-government demonstrations erupted after China refused to budge on its zero-COVID strategy and failed to vaccinate older people with Western vaccines during lockdowns, leaving them susceptible to serious illness. At the same time, Chinese cities struggled to pay the huge costs of having prolonged lockdowns, and local governments across the country reported a budget deficit of more than $1.65 trillion between January and October, CNN reported.
With the changes in COVID policy, the health commission also appeared to tacitly acknowledge the tragic building fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, where 10 people died after being locked down in COVID quarantine, unable to escape their barricaded apartment complex. The fire in Xinjiang was one of the sparks that ignited the nationwide protests.
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