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Beijing Drops Some Covid Tests As Capital ‘readies Itself For Life Again’

Beijing has dropped the need for people to show negative Covid tests to enter supermarkets and offices, the latest in an easing of curbs across China after historic protests.

“Beijing readies itself for life again” read a headline in the government-owned China Daily newspaper, adding that people were “gradually embracing” the slow return to normality.

Further loosening beckons after a string of demonstrations marked the biggest show of public discontent in mainland China since Xi Jinping became president in 2012.

“This might be the first step towards reopening from this pandemic,” said Beijing resident Hu Dongxu, 27, as he swiped his travel card to enter the subway, which has also dropped the need for tests.

Top officials have softened their tone on the severity of the virus, bringing China closer to what other countries have been saying for more than a year as they dropped restrictions and opted to live with Covid-19.

Tong Zhaohui, director of the Beijing Institute of Respiratory Diseases, said the latest Omicron variant had caused fewer cases of severe illness than the 2009 global influenza outbreak, according to Chinese state television.

China may announce 10 new nationwide easing measures as early as Wednesday, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, as cities across the country have been lifting localised lockdowns.

That has sparked optimism among investors for a broader reopening of the world’s second-biggest economy that could boost global growth.

Despite reassurances from authorities, commuter traffic in major cities such as Beijing and Chongqing has remained at a fraction of previous levels.

Some people remain wary of catching the virus, especially elderly people, many of whom remain unvaccinated, while there is also concern about the strain the loosening could put on China’s fragile health system.

China’s management of the disease may be downgraded as soon as January, to the less strict Category B from the current top-level Category A of infectious disease.

“The most difficult period has passed,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary published late on Monday, citing the weakening pathogenicity of the virus and efforts to vaccinate 90% of the population.

Analysts predict China may reopen the economy and drop border controls sooner than expected next year, with some seeing it fully open in spring.

But more than half of Chinese say they will put off travel abroad, for periods from several months to more than a year, even if borders reopened tomorrow, a study showed on Tuesday.

Fear of infection was the top concern among those saying they would postpone travel in a survey of 4,000 consumers in China by consultancy Oliver Wyman.

China reported 5,235 Covid-related cases as of Monday. Some experts have warned that toll could rise above a million if the exit is too hasty.

With Reuters

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