For the first time in decades, the Chinese Communist Party did not meet growing people’s unrest with blind violence. Rather, in face of protests against the unending Covid lockdowns spreading across the country, the party leadership decide to put people before its policy.

The state-controlled media in China seeks to play the government’s compromise into a leadership initiative. It is ‘people first’ and not ‘Zero-Covid first’ it says.

Media reports suggest new morals: Epidemic prevention and control is about keeping out viruses, not about keeping out people. It has always been about “people first,” not any so-called “epidemic prevention first.” Whatever prevention and control measures are taken, they should aim at bringing society back to normal and life back on track as soon as possible. All options are “bridges” and “boats” that lead us to this goal, rather than simply defending people and doing things blindly and without considering the cost.

Authorities have lifted Covid restrictions in several Chinee cities. In the southern China city of Guangzhou, the relaxed lockdown measures prompted a surge in online searches for flights and train tickets.

The government announced a series of easing anti-pandemic measures. They include dropping temporary control orders in about half of the districts across megacities holding millions of people and allowing close contacts of Covid patients who meet certain conditions to undergo quarantine in their own homes rather than in centralized facilities.

Guangzhou, for instance, also ended mass nucleic acid testing. The authorities are sparing people with no need to leave their homes from the requirement and allowing them to be tested on demand.

Bloomberg reported Beijing will allow some virus-infected people to isolate at home, starting with residents of the city’s most-populous district, a landmark shift that reflects the pressure officials are under from a record outbreak and public opposition to Zero Covid. 

Low-risk patients can do home isolation for a week if they choose, people familiar with the plans said, dialing back a nationwide policy that has seen everyone with Covid sent to government quarantine sites regardless of severity, to halt transmission chains. 

The shift has already begun in many areas including Chaoyang district — home to some 3.5 million people as well as foreign embassies and company offices — and it will act as an example for other districts to follow, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing an order that’s not yet public.

The communist government has simultaneously issued targets to local authorities for COVID vaccination for the elderly: by the end of January 2023, the first dose for people over 80 years old will reach 90%, and both the full vaccination rate and the booster (3rd-shot) vaccination rate for eligible target groups will reach 90%; the full vaccination rate and the booster vaccination rate for eligible target groups aged 60-79 will reach 95%.

Vaccinating the old is a paramount job because China still lags far behind, say, Japan and Singapore here. It’s not that China hasn’t made some effort, so what new tools it will use this time – and how effective they will be – is crucial.

The relaxation in the Zero Covid policy of President Xi Jinping have been welcomed by the people. It is nearly three years since the virus outbreak. An article in Pekingology which is read by the senior communist leadership in Beijing reported: “As the epidemic has taken longer to be prevented and controlled, many people have been approaching their limit of tolerance and endurance, even losing them little by little. As some netizens say: the first year was a panic, it was with a little bit of joy to be able to rest at home; then the second year would be a mixture of confusion and hope for a quick end; now comes the third year, with some complaint, people are wondering when is the end.”

According to the article, some places have “intensified the restrictions on a layer-by-layer basis,” abusing their power and making things difficult for the masses, resulting in the deformation of the policy. Some, on the surface, do not say they are implementing a lockdown, but are actually enforcing it, ignoring the interests of the masses and people’s aspirations, interrupting the normal order of production and life at will, and some even put the lives of the masses in disregard, taint the image of the Party and the government, and hurt the hearts of the masses. There are even some people who take the opportunity to make money from the epidemic. These stung more than the outbreak itself. The ensuing helplessness, boredom, and even anger are understandable.

The article, however, balances out the opinions by justifying the communist party’s strict lockdown project: “Our country’s social system, history and culture, values, and moral ethics do not allow us to stand by and watch our father and grandfather’s generation and children face the threat of death. In a Western country, hundreds of people have died in only one nursing home because of the pandemic, which would be unacceptable if it happened in our country. From this, one may also understand the efforts our country has made to contain the epidemic.”

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