After unprecedented nationwide protests against the Communist government, China appears to be softening its stance on its strict "zero-Covid" policy by removing restrictions in two cities.
The Asian juggernaut is the only major global economy that continues to impose strict lockdowns, quarantines, and mass testing on its citizens as part of its policy to combat Covid outbreaks.
Nearly three years into the pandemic, the routine imposition of restrictions led to mass protests in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, as well as calls for the resignation of President Xi Jinping.
Wednesday, after protesters clashed with police the night before, authorities in Guangzhou and Chongqing abruptly lifted restrictions in what China's top security body termed a crackdown against "hostile forces."
In at least seven districts of Guangzhou, authorities have announced the lifting of temporary lockdowns, and in one district, officials have stated that they will permit in-person school classes and reopen businesses, including movie theaters.
Chongqing will allow close contacts of people infected with Covid to quarantine at home under certain conditions.
In southwest Chengdu's northern city of Shijiazhuang, testing requirements were relaxed and vehicle movement was authorized. According to reports, markets and bus services have reopened in some areas.
Zhengzhou, a city in central China, has announced a trial relaxation and the orderly reopening of businesses, including supermarkets, gyms, and restaurants.
Despite the record number of daily cases, Chinese vice premier Sun Chunlan, who has been overseeing Covid control efforts, stated that the country has entered a "new stage" due to the virus's weakening.
"As the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus weakens, more people are vaccinated, and experience in containing the virus accumulates, the country faces a new situation and new tasks in epidemic prevention and control," said Ms. Sun.
According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, she called for the "optimisation" of testing, treatment, and quarantine policies.
The vice premier made no mention of the country's "zero-Covid" policy, indicating that a potential easing of the draconian restrictions is possible.
According to Reuters, citing sources with knowledge of the matter, China will permit some individuals who test positive for the virus to quarantine at home. This year, entire communities were quarantined for weeks following the discovery of a single positive case.
According to sources, pregnant women, the elderly, and individuals with underlying diseases will be eligible for home isolation.
China reported 36,061 new Covid infections on Wednesday, according to the National Health Commission.