BEIJING ( Associated Press) – China eased some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 measures, and officials said the new version was vulnerable. However, he had not yet set a date to abandon the “zero COVID” strategy, which confines millions of people to their homes and has sparked protests and calls for the resignation of President Xi Jinping.
For the first time in months, people in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were able to travel on buses and subways on Monday without showing a negative test within 48 hours. Industrial centers such as Guangzhou near Hong Kong have reopened markets and businesses and lifted most restrictions on movement, limiting restrictions to neighborhoods with positive cases.
The government last week announced plans to inoculate millions of people in their 70s and 80s, a condition for ending “zero COVID” measures that have kept most visitors out of China and disrupted global manufacturing and trade .
This raised hopes that the strategy would be quickly abandoned. But health experts and economists warn that vaccination rates will not reach high enough levels until mid-2023 and perhaps 2024, and hospitals will be unprepared for a potential surge in infections.
“China is not yet ready to reopen rapidly,” Morgan Stanley economists said in a report on Monday. “We expect continued containment measures (…) Depending on the situation in smaller cities restrictions may still be tightened if hospitalizations increase.”
The changes follow protests calling for an end to “zero COVID”, though they are in line with an earlier promise by the Communist Party to ease unrest with an easing of lockdowns and other restrictions. The changes have been widely publicized in a possible effort to ease public outcry, but there has been no sign of Beijing and other cities responding to the protests.
China is the last major country still trying to stamp out the contagion, as the United States and others ease restrictions and try to live with a virus that has killed at least 6.6 million people and has infected about 650 million people.