China wants to speed up Covid vaccinations and is taking action against protests

By Tuesday, streets swollen with protests were walled off and guarded by security guards, some of whom were scouring pedestrians’ phones for pictures or messaging apps that could link them to the demonstrations, according to Reuters.

In Beijing, police on Sunday guarded the site of a protest as people sang the Chinese national anthem, which included the lyrics “Rise, people who do not want to be slaves” and “Rise, rise, rise.”

Many of the weekend protests took place on university campuses, historically the birthplace of China’s political movements. Tsinghua University in Beijing, where protesting students had been chanting “We want a democratic rule of law, we want freedom of speech,” said in a statement on an official WeChat account that it would help students going home and from afar wanted to study, citing their health and safety.

While the protests were largely crushed, isolated riots continued. Late Monday, protesters in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou dismantled a Covid-19 testing kiosk and threw a bicycle and other objects while onlookers cheered and filmed, according to video posted online and tracked by NBC News. Another video showed more than 30 security guards with shields in white hazmat suits arriving at the scene.

Guangzhou officials announced Monday that most districts would no longer require mass testing for the elderly, remote workers, students taking online classes and others who are not required to leave home, in what was seen as an attempt to appease the public.

Experts say China will have a hard time getting out of the pandemic without more people being vaccinated. Many older people in China have resisted vaccination for fear of side effects or because they saw a low risk of contracting the virus in a country with virtually no cases. The proportion of people 60 and older who have received two doses is about 86.4%, according to official figures, compared to 93% of people 65 and older in the US

Police vehicles line a street in Beijing on Monday.Noel Celis / AFP – Getty Images

Chinese vaccines are also considered less effective against the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and the government has resisted approving Western mRNA vaccines like those from Pfizer and Moderna as it seeks to develop its own version.

The National Health Commission said on Tuesday that it was particularly focused on increasing vaccinations among people over 80, although it had not announced a mandate. Officials will improve vaccine education, enlist help from family members and deploy mobile vaccination vehicles, the agency said, and analyze “big data” to identify older people who need to be vaccinated.

With new, mostly asymptomatic infections still being reported across China – 38,421 on Tuesday, down from a record 40,052 the previous day – some Covid restrictions are still being tightened.

From Tuesday, residents of China’s largest city and its commercial capital, Shanghai, must show a negative PCR test for the past 48 hours – instead of 72 hours – to enter restaurants, bars, malls, supermarkets, beauty salons and other businesses. The restrictions match those introduced in Beijing last week.

Shanghai Disneyland, which only reopened on Friday after being closed for almost a month after a visitor tested positive for the virus, closed again indefinitely on Tuesday.

An opinion piece on Tuesday in People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said officials at all levels must “implement steadfastly” the government’s Covid policies. The protests were not mentioned.

“The harder it is, the more you have to grit your teeth,” it said.

Janis Mackey Frayer contributed.

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