China eases some COVID restrictions following anti-lockdown protests

Chinese authorities have eased some COVID restrictions in selected cities across the country following recent widespread anti-lockdown protests.

A slight ease in testing requirements is being introduced in Beijing, where residents can now board buses and trains without a virus test for the first time in months.

In the southern city of Shenzhen, commuters will no longer need to show a negative test result to use public transport and enter pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.

However, a negative result obtained within the past 48 hours is still required to enter venues like shopping malls, which have gradually reopened, with many restaurants providing takeaways.

China, which follows a strict zero-COVID policy aiming to isolate every infected person, is the last major country trying to stop transmission completely through quarantines, testing and mass lockdowns.

However, anti-lockdown protests which have erupted in recent weeks in Shanghai and other cities as protesters called for Xi Jinping to step down as president, were met with arrests and pepper spray.

Despite the protests, Chinese authorities have maintained that they will continue with the zero-COVID strategy.

However, earlier this week COVID lockdowns and some restrictions were eased in major cities including Guangzhou, Chongqing and Zhengzhou.

On Sunday, China announced another 35,775 positive cases from the past 24 hours, 31,607 of which were asymptomatic, bringing its total to 336,165 with 5,235 deaths.

The country reported two additional deaths, in the provinces of Shandong and Sichuan - although no information was given about their ages or whether they were fully vaccinated.

Although many have questioned the accuracy of the Chinese figures, they remain relatively low compared to the US and other nations.

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While nine in 10 Chinese people have been vaccinated, only 66% of people over 80 have had one jab, while 40% have received a booster, according to the National Health Commission.

Given the figures and the fact that relatively few Chinese people have built up antibodies by being exposed to the virus, some fear millions could die if restrictions were lifted entirely.

While the easing of some restrictions signals more freedoms for people, health experts and economists expect the zero-COVID strategy to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024.