According to state media Xinhua, China’s top Covid response official informed health officials on Wednesday that the nation was facing a “new stage and mission” in pandemic management, possibly signaling a change in Beijing’s “zero-Covid” approach that has provoked days of widespread protests.
China’s pandemic containment “faces a new stage and mission with the reducing toxicity of the Omicron variety, the increasing vaccination rate, and the gathering experience of outbreak control and prevention,” Sun Chunlan, China’s vice premier, said on Wednesday, according to Xinhua.
Her comments, as reported by Xinhua, came a day after China’s National Health Commission (NHC) stated that the correction of current pandemic measures is underway and that local governments should “react to and settle the reasonable demands of the community.”
The softer language comes as Guangzhou officials hint at relaxing Covid-19 containment restrictions after demonstrators and police clashed in the southern city on Tuesday night.
Zhang Yi, a representative of Guangzhou’s health commission, stated in a news conference on Wednesday that the city has modified the designation of risk levels and pandemic containment measures – to varied degrees – in each of its eleven districts.
Lockdowns have been lifted in four districts—Liwan, Baiyun, Tianhe, and Haizhu—while they are still in effect in high-risk zones.
If they match the standards, Guangzhou will stop sending all close contacts of Covid-19 patients to central quarantine facilities and instead permit some of them.
Last Thursday’s fatal fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang’s far western region, served as the catalyst for the protests. After videos of the incident appeared to reveal that lockdown procedures had prevented firefighters from reaching the victims, the public was outraged. The fire in the apartment complex claimed the lives of at least 10 people and injured nine more.
In China, where the Communist Party has tightened control over all facets of life, launched a massive crackdown on dissent, destroyed most of civil society, and established a high-tech surveillance state, public protest is incredibly uncommon.