The vast Chinese city of Chongqing announced on Sunday that public sector employees tested positive for Covid-19 able to go to work “as usual,” a remarkable turnaround for a city that just a few weeks ago went through a mass blockade.
The move comes as China continues to rapidly roll back its once strict Covid-free policy, with local governments across the country relaxing costly regulations on testing, isolation and other measures. other pandemic policies amid a widespread economic downturn.
“Asymptomatic and mildly ill employees of (Communist Party) and government organizations at all levels, businesses and organizations can go to work normally after taking necessary protective measures for their situation. their health status and job requirements,” Chongqing Pandemic Response Office said in a statement published on the website of the city government.
It added that government agencies will no longer test employees – including police, public school teachers and other workers – for negative Covid test results on a daily basis. Instead, authorities will shift the focus of their work from preventing infection to protecting health and preventing serious epidemics.
The abrupt turn is especially startling 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 is currently positive for Covid, expressed concern about the announcement.
“I’m not going unless they call my name,” he told CNN. “Having a group of infected people working together is definitely not a good thing,” he said, adding that the new policy is 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 need to go and infect healthy people?” read a top comment. Another user wrote: “This is going from one extreme to another.”
Several other places in China, including the eastern city of Wuhu and Zhejiang province, also announced similar measures this week.
Chongqing, an industrial and agricultural hub, became a Covid hotspot last month. More than a million residents have been told not to leave the city unless absolutely necessary, and several rounds of mass testing have been launched.
When Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited Chongqing on November 22, she urged the local government to implement “quick and decisive measures” to contain the outbreak by identifying positive cases and their close contacts, according to the state-run Global Times.
But then some residents lost their patience. Three years without covid has caused damage to the economy, disrupting people’s daily lives and livelihoods.
The image from Chongqing has disappeared go viral online in August, showing huge crowds standing in the sun for hours during a record heatwave as they awaited mandatory Covid testing. In the background, columns of smoke from wildfires rise above the horizon.
Reflecting growing frustration, one Chongqing resident gave a scathing speech in late November criticizing his residential blockade, shouting in front of the cheering crowd: “There is no freedom. do, I’d rather die!”
Nationwide protests against the Covid-free policy — and in some cases, against the central leadership itself — broke out just days later, marking the The most important challenge for the Communist Party and Chinese leader Xi Jinping for decades.
The country’s rapid rollback of Covid restrictions followed shortly thereafter. And while the easing of rules, such as allowing Covid patients to be isolated at home instead of being taken to a government quarantine center, is a relief many have long awaited, case spike has also caused widespread anxiety in populations that have largely been protected from the virus since 2020.
According to CNN calculations based on a research from Hong Kong researchers released last week, the country’s Covid death toll could reach nearly a million during the reopening.