China’s looser anti-COVID measures were met with relief and caution

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A day after China announced the lifting of some of its toughest COVID-19 restrictions, people across the country are welcoming the news with a degree of relief but also caution as many wait to see how the new change approach is implemented.

After nationwide protests last month against China’s tough anti-pandemic policies, the government announced on Wednesday that it would relax some of the strictest measures. Among the key changes is that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but show no or only mild symptoms can now stay at home instead of being forced into a state field hospital.

Online, government departments and hospitals are already changing their messaging on how to deal with COVID-19 at home if you get sick, marking an abrupt 180-degree turn from their policies before Wednesday, when all people who tested positive had to be taken there state field hospital, a makeshift facility to treat COVID-19 patients.

A team working for a prominent government doctor, Zhang Wenhong, released a detailed statement on the virus on Thursday, stressing that the vast majority of cases do not require hospitalization and that the virus is here to stay.

“The past three years have pushed us away from exposure to the virus… but in fact, there are thousands of microorganisms in human society,” the team at Shanghai’s Huashan Hospital wrote. “Suddenly we get sick every year because we have been infected with several of them.”

However, experts carefully emphasized that this is not the end of the containment of COVID-19.

“It’s not like we’re going to lie flat. Precise prevention must continue to be adhered to,” said Yu Changping, a doctor at the Department of Respiratory Medicine at Wuhan University People’s Hospital. “Opening up is an irreversible trend for the future because most people have been vaccinated and there have been fewer serious illnesses.”

Outside experts warned China will face a challenging first wave as the relaxed measures are likely to lead to more infections in a population with low immunity to the virus.

“Any country experiencing its first wave will face chaos, especially in medical capacity, and a shortage of medical resources,” said Wang Pi-sheng, Taiwan’s head of COVID-19 response, on Thursday. Wang said Taiwanese living in China may come home for medical treatment, especially if they are the elderly or those at high risk.

In Guangzhou, a metropolis in southern China that has seen rising case numbers in recent weeks, measures have been eased in recent days, easing Jenny Jian, a 28-year-old resident.

“On my way to the gym today, I didn’t have to scan the health code at all,” she said, referring to the QR codes people had to view to show if they had COVID-19 or were in close contact. “It was implemented very quickly. But politics is one thing. The main thing is to see what the experience is like when I step out the door.”

In Chongqing, another metropolis with rising infections, people rushed to buy cold medicine. In Beijing, some pharmacies ran out of cold medicine as they faced the same demand.

Chongqing city dwellers who need PCR testing for work are now facing long lines after neighborhood PCR testing points were closed last week as lockdown measures were eased.

Many are wary of whether restrictions will lift completely and whether new measures will be properly implemented.

“All the guidelines are in place, but when it comes to the local level, when it comes to the subdistrict level, in your neighborhood, it’s a complete mess,” said 65-year-old Yang Guangwei, a retiree living in Beijing. Yang said many people are dissatisfied with the way national-level policies have been implemented in their neighborhoods.

The new measures will also mandate fewer PCR tests, noting that the tests must target people in high-risk industries rather than entire districts. At the height of some lockdowns, many cities were conducting daily PCR tests. In recent months, residents of Beijing and Shanghai have had to undergo a PCR test every two or three days just to move around the city.

A Beijing resident, who gave only his family name, Qian, out of concern for the discussion of government policy, said those who needed to get tested still did.