China to halt travel tracking as it eases ‘zero-COVID’

BEIJING — China is set to drop a travel-tracking requirement as part of an uncertain exit from its tough “zero-COVID” policy that has sparked widespread dissatisfaction.

At midnight Monday, the smartphone app will stop working, meaning residents’ trips will not be tracked and recorded, potentially reducing the likelihood of them being forced into quarantine for visiting pandemic hotspots. The ruling Chinese Communist Party does not allow independent parties to conduct reviews, and such apps have been used in the past to repress travel and free speech. It’s part of an app package that includes the health code, which has yet to be disabled.

The move follows the government’s quick announcement last week that it would end many of the most draconian measures. This follows three years of lockdowns, travel restrictions and quarantines for people moving between provinces and cities, mandatory testing and requirements that a clean bill of health be presented to access public areas.

A temperature scanner stands near a note with a health check and travel QR codes at a closed fast food restaurant in Beijing on December 12, 2022.
A temperature scanner stands near a note with a health check and travel QR codes at a closed fast food restaurant in Beijing on December 12, 2022.
AP

Over the past month, protests against the restrictions in Beijing and several other cities have evolved into calls for the resignation of leader Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party on a scale of public political expression not seen in decades.

While the easing has met with relief, it has also raised concerns about a new wave of infections that may overwhelm healthcare resources in some areas.

Xi’s government is still officially committed to halting virus transmission, the latest major country to try. However, recent moves suggest the party will tolerate more cases without quarantine or closures of travel or businesses as it implements its “zero-COVID” strategy.

A masked worker looks out of a restaurant while a health check QR code and notice are posted on the front door "Please scan your health QR code and travel code, thank you for your cooperation" in Beijing on December 12, 2022.
A masked worker looks out of a restaurant whose front door displays a QR code for health checks and a notice reading ‘Please scan your health QR code and travel code, thank you for your cooperation’ in Beijing, China, December 12, 2022.
AP

Faced with a surge in COVID-19 cases, China is setting up more intensive care facilities and trying to boost hospitals’ ability to treat severe cases.

At the same time, the government reversed course, allowing people with mild symptoms to recover at home instead of sending them to field hospitals, which are notorious for overcrowding and poor hygiene.

Reports on the Chinese internet, which is tightly controlled by the government, tried to calm a nervous public by saying restrictions were still being lifted and travel, indoor dining and other economic activities would soon return to pre-pandemic conditions .

China’s leaders had long praised “zero-COVID” for having the number of cases and deaths much lower than other countries, but health officials now say the most common strain of Omicron poses a much lower risk.

Amid a sharp drop in testing numbers, China announced just about 8,500 new cases on Monday, bringing the country’s total to 365,312 — more than double the figure since Oct. 1 — with 5,235 deaths. That compares to 1.1 million COVID-19 deaths in the United States.

Protests erupted on November 25 after a fire killed 10 people in the northwestern city of Urumqi. Many believed COVID-19 restrictions may have hampered rescue efforts. Authorities denied the claims circulated online, but protesters expressed longstanding frustration in cities like Shanghai that have suffered severe lockdowns.

The party responded with a massive show of force and an unknown number of people were arrested during the protests or in the days that followed.

The Xi government pledged to cut costs and disruptions after the economy shrank 2.6% qoq in the three months to June. Forecasts say the economy is likely to contract in the current quarter. Imports fell 10.9% yoy in November, indicating weak demand.

Some forecasters have lowered their forecast for annual growth to below 3%, less than half of last year’s robust 8.1% expansion.

Amid the unpredictable messages from Beijing, experts warn the ruling party still has the option to reverse course and reintroduce restrictions if a large-scale outbreak occurs.

Last week’s announcement left significant leeway for local governments to enact their own regulations. Most restaurants in Beijing, for example, still require a negative test result within the last 48 hours, and the rules for government agencies are even stricter.

https://nypost.com/2022/12/12/china-to-drop-travel-tracing-as-it-relaxes-zero-covid/ China to halt travel tracking as it eases ‘zero-COVID’

JACLYN DIAZ

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