China to overhaul pandemic response

Following a wave of protests in recent weeks, Chinese authorities have announced a nationwide loosening of COVID-19 curbs.

In a statement this week, the National Health Commission (NHC) said asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and people with mild symptoms would be allowed to quarantine at home rather than in field hospitals that some have criticised as unsanitary and overcrowded.

The health authority’s new rules also limit lockdowns to individual apartment floors and buildings, rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods.

The NHC said high-risk areas should now be accurately defined by building, unit, floor and household, and must not be arbitrarily expanded to entire residential compounds and communities.

It also said the frequency and scope of PCR testing would be reduced, with mandatory mass testing – long a tedious mainstay of life in zero-COVID China – restricted to “high-risk” areas and schools.

People travelling between provinces will also no longer require a negative test taken within 48 hours, the NHC said, and they will not be required to test on arrival at their destination.

The health authority went on to urge localities to “resolutely rectify simplified, one-size-fits-all, and adding extra measures” for COVID-19 prevention and to reject and overcome “formalism and bureaucracy”.

The news comes as China said 2023 will see it focus on stabilising growth, employment and prices while preventing and defusing major systemic risks, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The announcement comes after the 24-member political bureau, or politburo, chaired by President Xi Jinping met to discuss the economic tasks for next year. “For next year, China will seek progress while maintaining stability,” Xinhua cited the meeting as saying, adding that “it will hold the bottom-line of preventing systemic risks.”