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China's Restrictive 'Zero COVID' Policy Suddenly Loosened After Protests

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Chinese citizens rejoiced on Wednesday after the communist government scrapped its most restrictive COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules, Reuters reported, citing social media posts.

Among the changes announced Wednesday, city officials no longer will have the power to shut down parts of the city, most testing requirements will be rescinded and patients with mild symptoms will be allowed to isolate at home, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The sweeping rollback of President Xi Jinping’s “zero COVID” policy is the most extensive yet since thousands of Chinese demonstrated against the lockdowns and shouted for Xi to step down.

“It’s time for our lives to return to normal, and for China to return to the world,” one user wrote on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, according to Reuters.

“We’re going to be free,” another social media user said.

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“Daylight is here,” echoed a third.

Li Bin, deputy director of China’s National Health Commission, said at a briefing the change came in response to the public’s “strong reaction” to local government officials who continued implementing severe restrictions, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Chinese citizens have endured one of the world’s harshest and longest-lasting lockdown regimes, implemented after the novel coronavirus spread from the city of Wuhan in 2019, according to Reuters.

Previously, municipal leaders could shut down entire cities to address the emergence of just a few COVID-19 cases, and individuals not under lockdowns had to undergo constant testing when moving around the city or province. Some who tested positive for the virus were shipped to mass isolation facilities.

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Months of lockdowns resulted in rioting and food shortages, while videos posted on social media appeared to show people leaping from the tops of high-rise buildings and authorities killing pets.

Under the new rules, COVID-19 patients exhibiting zero or mild symptoms will be allowed to quarantine at home, the Journal reported.

In addition, city officials cannot designate whole districts as “high risk” zones, shuttering businesses and barring citizens from conducting activities of daily life.

However, individual buildings where infections are found will continue to be placed under lockdown.

Testing requirements to cross provincial borders and enter most premises will be removed, the Journal reported.

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The ruling also forbids blocking emergency exits in an effort to contain the virus, a possible nod to the fire at an apartment complex in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, that killed 10 and was seen as the catalyst for the protests.

Witnesses said barriers set up to prevent infected people from spreading the virus impeded their escape from the burning building and hampered firefighters’ efforts to reach the flames.

Mi Feng, a spokesman for China’s National Health Commission, warned citizens to expect a “gradual” return to pre-pandemic life, Reuters reported.

However, health officials have begun to emphasize “dynamic optimization” of anti-COVID-19 rules rather than a “dynamic zero-COVID clearing” policy.

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