Chinese megacity Chongqing says people with Covid can go to work ‘as usual’

Hong Kong

The sprawling Chinese metropolis of Chongqing announced on Sunday that public sector employees who tested positive for Covid-19 can go to work “as usual”, a remarkable turnaround for a city that just weeks ago had a massive lockdown.

The move comes as China continues to rapidly dismantle its once strict zero-Covid policy, with local governments across the country relaxing costly rules on testing, quarantine and other pandemic policies amid a widespread economic downturn.

“Asymptomatic and mildly ill employees of the (Communist Party) and government organizations at all levels, companies and institutions can go to work normally after taking protective measures necessary for their health status and work requirements,” he said the Chongqing Pandemic Response Office in a statement posted on the municipal government website.

He added that government agencies would no longer screen employees – including police, public school teachers and other workers – for negative Covid tests on a daily basis. Instead, authorities will shift the focus of the work from infection prevention to health protection and the prevention of serious illness, he said.

The sharp U-turn is particularly impressive in Chongqing, one of China’s largest cities, with 32 million residents and an annual GDP of $400 billion.

Jerry Cheng, who works at a state-owned construction company in the city and currently tests positive for Covid, expressed concern about the announcement.

“I’m not going there unless my name is called,” he told CNN. “It’s definitely not good to have a bunch of infected people working together,” he said, adding that the new policy was to protect the local economy.

Cheng’s anxiety was reflected on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, on Monday as Chongqing residents reacted to the announcement.

“Why do you have to go infect healthy people?” read one of the top comments. Another user wrote: “This goes from one extreme to the other.”

Several other places in China, including the eastern city of Wuhu and Zhejiang province, also announced similar measures this week.

Chongqing, a hub for industry and agriculture, became a Covid hotspot last month. More than a million residents were told not to leave the city unless absolutely necessary, and several mass tests were conducted daily.

When China’s Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited Chongqing on November 22, she urged local authorities to take “quick and decisive measures” to contain the outbreak by identifying positive cases and their close contacts, according to state media Global Times.

But by then, some residents were losing patience. Three years of zero-Covid had taken its toll on the economy, disrupting people’s daily lives and livelihoods.

Photos from Chongqing had gone viral online in August, showing large crowds in the sun for hours during a record heat wave as they waited for mandatory Covid tests. In the background, plumes of smoke from wildfires rise above the horizon.

Reflecting growing frustration, a Chongqing resident gave a fiery speech in late November criticizing the closure of his residential compound, shouting to a cheering crowd: “Without freedom, I’d rather die!”

National protests against the zero-Covid policy – and in some cases against the central leadership itself – erupted just days later, marking the biggest challenge to the Communist Party and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in decades.

The swift lifting of the country’s Covid restrictions came soon after. And while the loosening of rules, such as allowing Covid patients to self-isolate at home rather than being taken to a government quarantine center, is an expected relief for many, the rise in cases has also caused widespread anxiety among a population that had been largely protected. . of the virus since 2020.

According to CNN calculations based on a study by Hong Kong researchers published last week, the country’s Covid death toll could reach nearly a million during its reopening.

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