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Confusion and angst follow as China eases coronavirus restrictions

City governments are facing renewed demands that they did not respond in ways that disrupt daily life.

Confusion and angst follow as China eases coronavirus restrictions
File photo

BEIJING: The reaction to China's most significant easing of coronavirus controls has been a jumble of conflicting priorities and public sentiment since Beijing announced the changes a week ago. The sudden reversal left residents unsure of how to react. Some celebrated the reopening of bars, restaurants and movie theatres. Others vowed to remain home and stockpiled traditional flu medicine, reported The Washington Post.

City governments are facing renewed demands that they did not respond in ways that disrupt daily life. At the same time, months of official warnings about disastrous consequences should the virus run wild have many people fearful of the country's soaring case numbers. One 30-year-old employee of a state-owned enterprise in Shijiazhuang was surprised that her "conservative and cautious" hometown had suddenly become an experiment in the country's attempt to escape its "zero covid" quagmire, reported The Washington Post.

China reported Friday that 25,353 individuals had tested positive the previous day, bringing its total number of symptomatic cases to 281,793. Though small compared with daily tallies in many countries, such numbers are among the highest China has recorded during the pandemic. No deaths have been reported in the most recent outbreak, but the contrast to months of near-zero infections remains shocking, reported The Washington Post.

Mounting frustrations since the government's announcement have occasionally turned chaotic. In the southern city of Guangzhou, protests escalated Monday into violent clashes with police after the Haizhu district extended lockdown even as the rest of the city was relaxing restrictions. That followed the Guangzhou government's decision in early November to force out-of-town workers to leave the city. Upon returning from quarantine centres, many were denied entry to their homes. Some accused authorities of negligence and discrimination against those without a local residence permit reported The Washington Post.

The restaurant that She Qianfeng runs was temporarily closed after dining in was banned again, and he has since joined a group of volunteers distributing food and other supplies. "Residents were unhappy, because they think the government was ill-prepared and didn't take good care of them," said She, who is from Hubei in central China.

Much uncertainty has come from officials' confused and contradictory messaging. Two weeks ago, the financial markets rose exuberantly on rumours of an imminent easing of coronavirus restrictions nationally. Health officials then denied any shift and promised "unswerving" adherence to the long-standing zero-covid policy. Days later, the government released its 20-point plan to slowly loosen quarantine and testing requirements, reported The Washington Post.

Quarantine periods were reduced from 10 days to eight, with five days spent in centralized quarantine and three at home. Contacts of infected individuals no longer need to go to centralized quarantine facilities. International flight routes will not be suspended when too many people test positive on arrival. At least eight cities including Shanghai dropped mass testing requirements. The expanding outbreak and weaker control measures have sparked debate about whether China's zero- covid strategy exists in name only now. The government emphatically denies that, reported The Washington Post.

At a news conference last weekend, National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng underscored that the new measures were about optimizing policy, not opening up or "lying down."

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