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China declares considerable loosening of COVID restrictions

A woman gets swabbed to be tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a nucleic acid testing site in Shanghai, China, December 7, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

The Chinese government has announced a broad, nationwide loosening of strict health protocols imposed in the past years due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Beijing declared a relaxation of its COVID-19 prevention and control protocols, which were largely in place since the pandemic erupted three years ago, announcing that the frequency and scope of PCR testing would be limited to certain places from now on, and people would no longer be required to show a green health code to enter most public buildings and spaces.

Also, both of Beijing's airports had removed obligatory testing at the terminals.

However, a negative nucleic acid test result was still required for access to nursing homes, kindergartens, and schools.

Meanwhile, most residents in the capital city, Beijing, welcomed the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions as people were allowed into parks, supermarkets, offices, and airports without having to show a negative COVID-19 test.

"Our life and work have become more convenient now, because we don't need negative COVID-19 tests to enter office buildings any more... On the other hand, because people are not testing any more, if there is someone who is infected, we won't know in a timely manner. So I believe there are pros and cons of the policy,"‌ said 30-year-old local resident Jing Xuan.

"It's time for our lives to return to normal, and for China to return to the world," wrote one Weibo user.

"This change of policy is a big step forward," said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management. "I expect China will fully reopen its border no later than mid 2023."

The new stance on COVID restrictions came after President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the Communist Party's Politburo on Tuesday. Earlier, the nation had witnessed a string of demonstrations over the firm COVID restrictions.

COVID poses no danger

Chinese residents were reportedly loading up on COVID-19 antigen kits and medicine for fevers, coughs, and colds over fears that easing the measures could trigger a spread of the disease.

Online medicine platforms, pharmacies, and drug makers have in recent days reported surging sales, with JD Health saying sales of antigen test kits jumped 344 percent in the week to December 4 compared with the previous week.

Chinese health experts suggest that the danger of COVID-19 has diminished and it is not more deadly than seasonal influenza.

Gu Xiaohong, a top traditional Chinese medicine official, was quoted in the Beijing Daily on Wednesday as saying China should change its official name for COVID-19 to reflect the virus' mutation, advising patients with light symptoms to recuperate at home.

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