China will end trip tracing as it softens its “zero-COVID” policy

China will end trip tracing as it softens its “zero-COVID” policy

BEIJING — As part of an unclear exit from its tight “zero-COVID” restrictions, which have aroused considerable unhappiness, China will eliminate a trip tracing requirement.

At midnight on Monday, the smart phone application will cease functioning, meaning that citizens’ travels will no longer be detected and logged, potentially lessening the probability that they will be forced into quarantine for visiting pandemic hot regions. The ruling Chinese Communist Party does not permit independent groups to undertake verification, and similar apps have been used in the past to restrict travel and free speech. It is bundled with the health code, which has not yet been disabled.

The action follows last week’s sudden announcement by the administration that it will discontinue many of the most punitive restrictions. This comes after three years of lockdowns, travel restrictions and quarantines for persons moving between provinces and cities, mandatory testing, and requirements to provide a clean bill of health to enter public areas.

On December 12, 2022, a temperature sensor stands next to a note displaying a health check and travel QR codes at a closed fast-food restaurant in Beijing.
AP

Last month, in Beijing and many other cities, protests over the limitations escalated into calls for leader Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party to resign, a degree of public political expression not seen for decades.

While the relaxation was hailed with relief, it has raised concerns that a new surge of illnesses could overwhelm health care resources in some locations.

The Chinese government remains publicly committed to halting viral transmission, making it the last major nation to do so. As the party winds down its “zero-COVID” stance, however, recent developments indicate that it will allow more cases without quarantines or restrictions on travel or commerce.

In Beijing on December 12, 2022, a disguised employee stares out from a restaurant whose entrance door shows a health check QR code and a message that reads “Please scan your health QR code and travel code, thank you for your cooperation.”
AP

In response to an increase in COVID-19 cases, China is establishing more intensive care units and working to improve hospitals’ capacity to treat severe cases.

Simultaneously, the administration switched tactics by allowing people with minor symptoms to heal at home instead of being transported to field hospitals infamous for congestion and poor sanitation.

The government-controlled Chinese internet attempted to soothe a frightened populace by reporting that restrictions would continue to be lifted and that travel, indoor dining, and other economic activities would soon return to pre-pandemic levels.

China’s government have long lauded “zero-COVID” for keeping the number of illnesses and deaths significantly lower than in other countries, but health officials now assert that the most frequent omicron strain provides a substantially lesser risk.

Due to a dramatic decline in testing, China reported only 8,500 new cases on Monday, bringing the total to 365,312 — more than quadruple the number since October 1 — with 5,235 deaths. This compared to 1,1 million deaths from COVID-19 in the United States.

Ten people perished in a fire on November 25 in Urumqi, a city in the northern region of China. Numerous individuals suspected that COVID-19 limits may have hampered rescue efforts. Authorities disputed the online rumors, but demonstrators in cities such as Shanghai that had undergone heavy lockdowns voiced their chronic frustration.

An undetermined number of individuals were arrested during the protests or in the days that followed.

After the economy contracted 2.6% from the previous quarter during the three months ending in June, Xi’s government pledged to minimize costs and disruption. According to economists, the economy is likely contracting in the current quarter. In November, imports fell 10.9% compared to the same month a year prior, indicating poor demand.

Some analysts have reduced their annual growth projections to around 3%, which is less than half of last year’s solid 8.1% rise.

In light of Beijing’s unpredictability, experts say there is still a potential the ruling party will change direction and reimpose restrictions if a widespread outbreak occurs.

The announcement made last week gave local governments ample latitude to establish their own regulations. For example, the majority of eateries in Beijing still demand a negative test result received within the preceding 48 hours, and the rules for government agencies are significantly harsher.

 

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