Covid restrictions abruptly lifted in China’s Guangzhou and Chongqing after protests

China seems to be softening its stance on its stringent “zero-Covid” policy by lifting restrictions in two cities after unprecedented nationwide protests against the Communist government.

The Asian giant is the only major world economy still to impose stringent lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing on its citizens under its policy to stub Covid at every flare-up.

Routine imposition of restrictions nearly three years into the pandemic led to mass protests in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and even resulted in calls for president Xi Jinping’s resignation.

Authorities abruptly lifted restrictions in Guangzhou and Chongqing on Wednesday after protesters scuffled with police the night before in what China’s top security body called a crackdown on “hostile forces”.

In at least seven districts in Guangzhou authorities announced lifting temporary lockdowns, and in one district officials said they would allow in-person classes in schools and re-open businesses, including cinemas.

Chongqing will allow close contacts of people infected with Covid, who fulfill certain conditions, to quarantine at home.

Testing requirements were eased and vehicle movement was allowed in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province. In some areas, markets and bus services reportedly reopened.

Central China’s Zhengzhou city announced testing relaxation and orderly resumption of businesses, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.

Despite the record number of daily cases, Chinese vice premier Sun Chunlan, who has been in charge of overseeing Covid control efforts, said the country was entering a “new stage” with the weakening of the virus.

“The country is facing a new situation and new tasks in epidemic prevention and control as the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus weakens, more people are vaccinated and experience in containing the virus is accumulated,” Ms Sun said.

She urged further “optimisation” of testing, treatment and quarantine policies, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The vice premier did not mention the country’s “zero-Covid” policy, suggesting a possible relaxation of the draconian restrictions could be on the cards.

China will allow some people who test positive for the virus to quarantine at home, Reuters reported, citing sources with knowledge of the matter. Earlier this year, entire communities were locked down for weeks after the discovery of just one positive case.

According to sources, pregnant women, the elderly and people with underlying illnesses will qualify to isolate at home.

On Wednesday, China reported 36,061 new Covid infections, the National Health Commission said.