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Semafor LogoDiego Mendoza
newsEast Asia

China begins experimenting with loosening zero-COVID restrictions

Diego Mendoza is a Breaking News reporter. You can reach him on dmendoza@semafor.com. Sign up for Flagship, our daily newsletter that distills what’s happening in the world into a concise, insightful morning read.

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The city of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province, China, has become one of the first cities in the country to loosen zero-COVID restrictions, no longer requiring daily PCR tests for most citizens and allowing university students to return to classes despite an active outbreak, according to multiple mainland news sources.

China Zero COVID testing
REUTERS/Thomas Peter
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According to Cailan Press, word of relaxing COVID measures in Shijiazhuang first started spreading online after netizens began circulating images of a hospital posting saying that residents would no longer be entitled to free PCR tests, which many interpreted as a sign that the city would no longer require mass testing.

Officials have decided to loosen measures amid an ongoing outbreak in the city, with Bloomberg reporting 544 new cases in Shijiazhuang on Sunday.

The city government appeared to confirm that it would pull back some COVID restrictions in a "message to all citizens" uploaded to the city's website Sunday. The message said that "everyone is responsible for their own health" and that the city would only only require mandatory testing and lockdowns for certain people.

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However, the local government also stressed that these responses were not about "laying down" pandemic measures, confusing residents and businesses about what the new provisions entail.

According to the news outlet Qianlong, some business owners and primary schools that were contacted by reporters said that PCR tests were no longer required for entry, while others said that they would still be mandating PCR tests.

It appears that the quarantine measures are being pulled back, with officials from Hebei Normal University announcing that starting Monday "risk-free personnel" will be allowed back on campus for classes, despite an ongoing outbreak among students and staff.

Some netizens reported that the loosened measures were a relief for residents. A former CCTV reporter on Weibo wrote that her parents were finally allowed to go buy groceries without worrying.

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