The Chinese government is expected to relax its Covid rules further and allow people to use public transport and go shopping freely within the nation without the need to show a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test.
On Monday, state media said China had made a great achievement in its anti-epidemic battle since early 2020, and the toughest time could have passed.
Chinese medical experts were quoted by China Central TV (CCTV) as saying that the Omicron strains of Covid-19 were now weaker than seasonal flu in terms of pathogenicity as most people could recover by themselves within five to seven days.
Citing unnamed sources, Reuters reported that Beijing might announce a 10-point notice on Wednesday to ease China’s Covid rules by managing the Omicron strains as a category B infectious disease, similar to dengue fever and seasonal influenza, from next month.
All these changes come as China’s official Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 48 in November from 49.2 in October. The figure marks the second monthly contraction in a row, as the 50-point index mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.
On Tuesday, Beijing announced that people from now on do not need a negative PCR test result to enter shops and supermarkets, office and public buildings. It said people do not have to show a green health code to enter residential areas and villages.
However, it said people still need a negative PCR test result, done in the past 48 hours, if they want to enter schools, elderly care homes, medical institutions or entertainment premises.
Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday evening published an editorial titled “The most difficult period has passed.”
It said that over the past three years China had shown its ability to fight Covid-19. It said the country had recorded the lowest death rates and the fewest Covid deaths among all major countries.
It said China’s improved experience in epidemic control and the weakening pathogenicity of the Omicron strains had provided new conditions for the country to fine-tune its Covid rules.
Tong Zhaohui, a vice-president of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital and an expert of the National Health Commission medical treatment group, told CCTV that local and international research had shown that the Omicron strains were significantly less pathogenic than the original and Delta strains.
Tong said the Omicron variant was highly infectious but it mostly caused infections in people’s upper respiratory systems, instead of pneumonia or other serious illnesses. He said the proportion of serious patients to all Omicron infections was lower than that in the seasonal flu period in 2009.
Other state media said that as many cities had announced plans to stop regulatory PCR tests, it was inevitable that people would face a higher chance of being infected. They said people should not panic if they tested positive as they would recover in five to seven days.
Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times and a high-profile commentator, said the relaxations of Covid measures in major Chinese cities had come earlier than expected, meaning that people would soon be able to travel and enter public places freely in the country.
Hu said that although some cities still required people to show negative PCR results to enter entertainment premises or restaurants, it was very likely that they would further ease these rules soon.
“It’s not meaningful for people who support the ‘zero Covid’ and ‘lying flat’ strategy to continue their debates,” he said. “Those who try to win the debate at this time are narrow-minded.
“My friends who work overseas told me that they have already followed other local people to live with the virus. If they can live without constraints in foreign countries, why can’t we do the same?” he said.
He said people should welcome the coming changes in their lives joyfully.
In China, the phrase “lying flat” originally referred to the phenomenon that many young people gave up fighting for what they want amid high inflation and high property prices. It was later used to describe those who supported the West’s “living with the virus” strategy.
Since the pandemic broke out in Wuhan in early 2020, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled Covid-19 as a Category B infectious disease but managed it under Category A protocols, alongside plague and cholera. Reuters reported that Beijing would start managing Covid-19 like seasonal flu from next month.
Some other commentators expected that the 10-point notice, which would be announced on Wednesday or within the coming few days, would end all regular PCR tests, allow home quarantine and allow people to buy medicines, use public transport and enter public places without showing a negative PCR result.
But they said the health-code system would probably continue for some more time, or until March 2023.
Since early 2020, China has been using a health-code system to locate the close contacts of infected people. A person is given a red code after he or she tests positive while people in the same building would be given a yellow code, which often limits their freedom of movement.
Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3.