Beijing has dropped the requirement for people to show negative Covid tests to enter supermarkets and offices, the latest in an easing of restrictions across China after historic protests.
“Beijing is preparing for life again,” read a headline in the state-run China Daily newspaper, adding that people are “gradually embracing” the slow return to normalcy.
Further easing is looming after a series of protests marked the biggest public outrage in mainland China since Xi Jinping became president in 2012.
“This could be the first step towards reopening from this pandemic,” Beijing resident Hu Dongxu, 27, said as he swiped his travel card to enter the subway, which also removed the need of testing.
In one downtown area, some supermarkets had already removed signs from entrances requiring a health code. Most stores had reopened in one of the city’s largest malls, which also only required a green health code to enter. The sudden change in restrictions meant few people were out yet. A member of staff at a restaurant said it was still only offering take-out, although dining is now permitted as the short notice to reopen had left them understaffed and unprepared. However, they said they would likely restart on Wednesday.
Senior officials 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 abandon restrictions and choose to live with Covid-19.
Tong Zhaohui, director of the Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Beijing, said the latest variant of Omicron caused fewer cases of severe illness than the 2009 global flu outbreak, according to Chinese state television.
China could announce 10 new nationwide easing measures as early as Wednesday, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, as cities across the country lifted localized lockdowns.
This has raised investor optimism that a wider reopening of the world’s second-largest economy could boost global growth.
Despite assurances from authorities, commuter traffic in major cities such as Beijing and Chongqing remained at a fraction of previous levels.
Some people remain wary of catching the virus, especially the elderly, many of whom are still unvaccinated, while there are also concerns about the strain the loosening could put on the healthcare system. fragile of China.
China’s handling of the disease could be downgraded as early as January, to the less stringent Category B of the current upper-tier Category A of infectious diseases.
“The most difficult period has passed,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a comment published late Monday, citing the weakening of the pathogenicity of the virus and efforts to vaccinate 90% of the population.
Analysts predict China could reopen the economy and drop border controls sooner than expected next year, with some predicting it will open up fully in the spring.
But more than half of Chinese say they will postpone outbound travel, for periods ranging from several months to more than a year, even if borders reopen tomorrow, according to a study released on Tuesday.
Fear of infection was the main concern of those who said they would postpone travel in a survey of 4,000 consumers in China by consultancy Oliver Wyman.
China reported 5,235 Covid-related cases on Monday. Some experts have warned that the toll could exceed one million if the exit is too hasty.