Beijing and Shenzhen suspend COVID-19 testing for public transport

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BEIJING — Local 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 transportation.

The slight easing of COVID-19 testing requirements comes amid daily virus infections nearing record highs, and follows weekend protests by residents across the country frustrated by the strict enforcement of anti-virus restrictions, now entering their fourth year The rest of the world 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 also no longer be required for public transport from December 5. However, a negative result obtained within the last 48 hours is still required to enter venues such as shopping malls that have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries offering take-away services.

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 detected in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 with no 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 policies in place since the pandemic began led to short-term lockdowns and mass testing across the country.

China still imposes mandatory quarantine on incoming travelers to the country, even as infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion people.

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 various 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, the World Health Organization’s director of emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan that 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 people are in pain”.

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