China Adjusts Some Pandemic Policies, While Sticking to ‘Zero Covid’

“Some interpretations are being too optimistic,” said Bruce Pang, chief economist for Greater China at Jones Lang LaSalle. “The Covid policy will only be fine-tuned in the short term, with the focus shifting between eliminating cases and making more precise measures.”

The flurry of changes, totaling 20 new measures mostly focused on domestic rules, reflect a recognition at the highest levels that a more targeted approach is needed for controlling Covid-19. On Thursday, China’s top leadership discussed the country’s strategy amid economic uncertainty that has played out in financial markets, in the boardrooms of the world’s biggest companies and among global leaders.

Foreign executives have complained about being unable to visit local staff and inspect operations for more than two years. Many would-be shoppers are staying home out of fear of crossing paths with someone infected with Covid and being sent to quarantine under heavy guard. The social costs are climbing, too, as more people are swept up in lengthy lockdowns and tough government quarantines, their frustrations evading China’s internet censors.

Health officials said some of the adjustments to contact tracing were done to reduce the large number of people who have been caught up in the “zero-Covid” dragnet. Previously, even contacts of close contacts were identified and required to isolate.

In the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou where cases have jumped to more 2,500 a day, the authorities had resisted a full-blown lockdown, choosing instead to restrict the movement of residents in three of the city’s eleven districts. Following the rule changes, they said at a news conference on Friday that they would release all contacts of close contacts currently under stay-at-home orders and would stop tracking new ones.

Senior officials who met on Thursday called for a rectification of “superfluous policy steps and a one-size-fits-all approach,” in a nod to the growing social and economic cost of the country’s increasingly rigid approach to controlling new variants that are milder, albeit more contagious.

But in a sign that China’s leaders are not yet ready to abandon or deviate dramatically from their current strategies, they also stressed that “necessary epidemic control measures must not be relaxed.”

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting. Li You and Zixu Wang contributed research.

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