Beijing and Shenzhen suspend COVID-19 testing for public transport

BEIJING – Chinese authorities on Saturday announced further easing of COVID-19 curbs, with major cities like Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to use public transport.

The slight easing of testing requirements comes despite daily viral infections reaching near record highs, and follows Weekend protests across the country by local residents frustrated by the strict enforcement of antivirus restrictions who are now entering their fourth year while the rest of the world has opened up.

Shenzhen’s southern technological manufacturing hub said Saturday commuters no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to use public transportation or enter pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.

Meanwhile, the capital Beijing announced on Friday that negative test results will no longer be required for local public transport from Monday. However, a negative result obtained within the last 48 hours is still required to enter venues such as shopping malls that have gradually reopened and many restaurants and eateries offering take-away food.

The requirement has prompted complaints from some Beijing residents that although the city has closed many testing stations, most public venues still require COVID-19 testing.

The government reported 33,018 domestic infections in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 without symptoms.

While the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China remains the only major nation still adhering to a “zero COVID” strategy aimed at isolating every infected person. The policy, in place since the pandemic began, has led to lockdowns and mass testing across the country.

China still imposes mandatory quarantine on incoming travelers despite infection numbers being low compared to its population of 1.4 billion.

The latest demonstrations, the largest and most widespread in decades, erupted on November 25 after a fire at an apartment building in the northwest city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.

That sparked angry questions online about whether locked doors or other antivirus controls blocked firefighters or victims trying to escape. Authorities denied this, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.

The country saw several days of protests in cities including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters calling for an easing of COVID-19 curbs. Some called for the resignation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, an extraordinary display of public dissent in a society over which the ruling Communist Party exercises near-total control.

The Xi government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will remain at ‘zero COVID’. Health experts and economists expect it to remain in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for the lifting of controls keeping most visitors away from China.

While the government has acknowledged some mistakes, mostly blamed on overzealous officials, criticism of government policies can lead to punishment. According to local media reports, former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was recently fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for criticizing the conditions at the teams’ quarantine facilities.

On Friday, dr Michael Ryan, World Health Organization director for emergencies said the UN agency is “delighted” that China is easing some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain”.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Beijing and Shenzhen suspend COVID-19 testing for public transport

Sarah Y. Kim

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