China’s most senior official in charge of its Covid response told health officials Wednesday that the country faced a “new stage and mission” in pandemic controls, state media Xinhua reported – potentially indicating an adjustment to Beijing’s “zero-Covid” strategy which has sparked days of nationwide protests.
“With the decreasing toxicity of the Omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate and the accumulating experience of outbreak control and prevention, China’s pandemic containment faces new stage and mission,” Sun Chunlan, China’s vice premier, said Wednesday, according to Xinhua.
Making no mention of “zero-Covid,” her remarks, as reported by Xinhua, came a day after China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said the rectification of current pandemic measures is underway and local governments should “respond to and resolve the reasonable demands of the masses” in a timely manner.
In a meeting with the NHC on Wednesday, Sun also stated that a “human-centered approach” should be taken, and China should enhance its “diagnosis, testing, treatment and quarantine” measures, continue boosting vaccination rates – especially among the elderly people – and beef up medication and medical resources.
The softened rhetoric comes as officials in Guangzhou indicated an inching towards easing Covid-19 containment measures, after the southern metropolis saw protesters clash with police on Tuesday evening.
In a press briefing Wednesday, Zhang Yi, a spokesperson of Guangzhou’s health commission, said that the city has adjusted the designation of risk levels and pandemic containment measures – to a varying extent – in all its eleven districts.
Lockdowns in four districts – namely Liwan, Baiyun, Tianhe and Haizhu – have been lifted, while lockdowns remain in areas designated as high-risk.
Guangzhou will stop sending all close contacts of Covid-19 patients to central quarantine facilities and allow some to isolate at home if they meet the requirements, Zhang said.
The city will also no longer launch district-wide mass Covid-19 testing. “All districts should conduct testing in a scientific manner,” Zhang added.
On Tuesday, Guangzhou reported 6,995 new local cases, Zhang said. China reported 37,612 new local cases nationwide on Tuesday, the NHC said Wednesday.
China has moved quickly to suppress demonstrations that erupted across the country against the government’s zero-Covid policy over the past few days, deploying police forces at key protest sites and tightening online censorship.
The protests were triggered by a deadly fire last Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang. The blaze killed at least 10 people and injured nine in an apartment building – leading to public fury after videos of the incident appeared to show lockdown measures had delayed firefighters from reaching the victims.
Public protest is exceedingly rare in China, where the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, wiped out much of civil society and built a high-tech surveillance state.