China moves closer to scrapping zero-Covid policy

Beijing : After widespread protests, China on Wednesday rolled back major Covid-19 restrictions, moving a step closer to scrapping its dreaded zero-Covid policy, which drastically slowed down the economy and the movement of people across the country. In light of the changing situation and the weakened virulence of the Omicron variant, the State Council or China’s cabinet released the new measures to further optimise the response to COVID-19, an official announcement here said. The new measures limit the lockdown to individual apartment floors and buildings, rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods. The lockdowns enforced by officials in hazmat suits have become a symbol of repression and confinement of millions of people to their flats and apartment blocks in Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Beijing. The sudden relaxation of the rules also sparked concerns that the daily virus cases which were averaging around 30,000 a day could increase rapidly as more people are expected to step out. China is currently in the thick of its winter season with temperatures dropping to below zero. The relaxation of rigid measures under the zero-Covid policy comes in the backdrop of last month-end protests in many cities opposing the policy. Some protestors even called for President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party to step down. Acknowledging the protests, Xi in talks with EU President Charles Michel early this month said that the demonstrations were carried by “mainly students” who are “frustrated” after three years of the pandemic. Xi also reported to have said that the dominant Omicron strain is less lethal’, but expressed concern about vaccinating the elderly, according to media reports. In China, only 68.7 per cent of people over 60 have had three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, official figures show. For those aged 80 and over, only 40.4 per cent have had a booster dose. China so far used locally produced vaccines and has not pushed hard for vaccinating the elders, which experts say is due to a lack of confidence, while the world over elders have been vaccinated first for covid.