China on Wednesday announced a nationwide loosening of coronavirus rules, permitting home isolation for close contacts and removing the requirement for COVID tests in most public places.
Less than two weeks have passed since widespread protests over the “zero COVID” policy erupted across the nation. Since the onset of the pandemic, millions of people have been suffering under various constraints; this announcement has given them some relief.
“China further adjusts and optimises COVID response by releasing 10 new measures, including allowing infections with mild or no symptoms to take home quarantine and reducing the frequency of nucleic acid testing,” state media outlet Global Times said in a tweet while quoting the country’s Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council.
Hundreds of people in Shanghai, China’s largest city and financial hub, started publicly demonstrating against the restrictive COVID-19 regulations in the last week of November.
According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organisation, protesters screamed “Down with the Communist Party!” and “Down with Xi Jinping!” while holding blank banners to avoid arrest and reduce risk (HRW).
On November 27, college students around the nation gathered on their campuses to protest, and that evening, hundreds of people walked to the streets in Wuhan, the birthplace of COVID-19, Chengdu, Beijing, and other major cities.
The demonstration in Shanghai was in response to an apartment building fire that occurred on November 24 in Urumqi, the regional capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang province, and resulted in at least 10 fatalities.
According to media reports, pandemic control barriers prevented residents from fleeing the fire, and COVID-related restrictions made it difficult for emergency responders to work.
Later, citizens of Urumqi gathered in front of a government administrative building to lament the fatalities and denounce COVID restrictions that have kept the city under lockdown for more than three months.
“Chinese authorities have badly underestimated the willingness of people across China to risk all to have their rights and liberties respected,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“People in China with incredible courage are showing the Chinese Communist Party and the world that they, like everyone else, are entitled to have a say in how they are governed,” Yaqiu added.