China has lifted tough pandemic restrictions on transport workers that have slowed the flow of goods in the country, as Beijing eases its economic-damaging zero-Covid policy.
The directive to local governments follows a move to reopen the country after nearly three years of a Covid-19 containment strategy that led to lockdowns and border closures, hitting businesses.
The state council, China’s cabinet, said long-haul truck drivers should not work in “closed facilities”, where they are detained for long periods, and said authorities should not subject them to regular PCR tests.
The country’s roads and ports have been filled with checkpoints where drivers had to show a negative recent PCR test and health code, congesting the flow of goods and slowing the recovery of the national economy.
“[Local governments should] make every effort to ensure the transport service of vaccines, antigen reagents, medicines, masks and other medical supplies,” added the Council of State in the announcement.
China has also eased restrictions on airline workers, according to Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific. Workers will only have to spend three days in Hong Kong before flying to the mainland, up from seven. “We accept this modification,” the airline said.
The sudden face-off in the virus followed nationwide protests and an economic downturn led by a real estate crisis. The re-opening, however, has raised concerns of “outbreaks” of deadly Covid cases due to inadequate health facilities and low vaccination rates among the elderly.
China reported just 10,815 new Covid-19 infections on December 10 and no new deaths. But analysts said that considering the drop in testing requirements since the policy change, the numbers were unlikely to reflect the situation on the ground.
In central Beijing over the weekend, streets and shopping malls were deserted as many people stayed at home. Many residents who have contracted Covid-19 told the Financial Times that they are staying in isolation in their homes without notifying the authorities of their cases.
“The transition phase will be difficult as the country may need to cope with more debt and additional health systems. In the short term, we may see growth,” said Jing Li, HSBC’s Greater China economist. .”
China has a GDP growth rate of 5.5 percent this year but HSBC’s forecast for 2022 is 3 percent.
Leading Chinese epidemiologists, such as Zhong Nanshan and Li Lanjuan, have assured the public of the mildness of Omicron’s condition in media interviews in recent days after being largely hidden from public view for months.
Their reappearance has caused a backlash from internet users, some questioning “the timing”, as they have always emphasized the high level of infection in the local media but now they are promoting the reopening in accordance with the government.
Netizens have shared screenshots on social media of various officials’ comments made before and after the latest policy change.