XI Jinping has relaxed his draconian Covid rules after weeks of historic protests in a humiliating climbdown for the dictator.

In a sharp turnaround, China has rolled back some of its most strict rules – including slashing the length of lockdowns and ordering pupils to return to classrooms.

Reuters

Shanghai residents confront hazmat-clad enforcers during a protest[/caption]

AP

A protester being taken away by cops in Shanghai, China[/caption]

Getty

Protesters took the streets in at least eight cities across China[/caption]

AP

China’s President Xi Jinping[/caption]

Anger over China’s zero-Covid policy – involving mass lockdowns, constant testing and lengthy quarantines – stoked huge unrest on a scale not seen since the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

And in an announcement on Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission confirmed rules will be relaxed.

The frequency and scope of PCR testing will be reduced, lockdowns will be scaled down, and people with non-severe Covid cases can isolate at home instead of at overcrowded field hospitals.

People will no longer be required to show proof of Covid tests and a clean bill of health on their phone to enter public buildings and spaces – apart from areas such as nurseries, elderly care facilities and schools.

The new rules have also scrapped the forced quarantines for people with no symptoms or with mild cases.

The scale of lockdowns has been limited to individual apartment floors and buildings, rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods – and lockdowns can last no longer than five days unless additional cases are detected.

“Asymptomatic infected persons and mild cases who are eligible for home isolation are generally isolated at home, or they can voluntarily choose centralised isolation for treatment,” the commission said.

“Mass PCR testing only carried out in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and high-risk work units; scope and frequency of PCR testing to be further reduced.

“People travelling across provinces do not need to provide a 48h test result and do not need to test upon arrival.”

The climbdown comes after unprecedented protests across the country over Xi’s strict zero-Covid policy – which is now entering its fourth year.

Hundreds took to the streets in eight cities – including Beijing and Shanghai – after the deaths of 10 people in an apartment fire was blamed on lockdown rules.

Protesters called for more political freedoms, with some even calling for Xi to step down.

China has desperately tried to maintain the hardline policy while keeping the world’s second-largest economy humming.

But the nationwide outpouring of public frustration appears to have finally swayed the opinion of top Communist Party officials.

Under the new measures, restrictions will also be lifted on the sale of cold medications, and vaccinations for the elderly will be stepped up.

Orders for businesses and transport companies to suspend services will be lifted.

And greater attention will be paid to public safety – with fire exits no longer blocked due to lockdown orders.

How the rules have been relaxed

  • People with non-severe Covid cases can now isolate at home
  • People are no longer required to show a ‘green health code’ to enter public buildings and public spaces – with some exceptions
  • Forced quarantines for people with no symptoms or mild cases have been scrapped
  • Schools where there have been no outbreaks must return to in-class teaching
  • Lockdowns will be limited to apartment floor and buildings – rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods
  • Lockdowns can last no longer than five days unless new cases are detected
  • Restrictions lifted on the sale of cold medications
  • Orders for businesses and transport companies to suspend services have been lifted
  • Restrictions on using public transport without proof of a negative test have been lifted in some cities

Officials have been gradually rolling back restrictions in the last few days.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

Shanghai – which underwent a brutal two-month lockdown this year – announced the same rules – with residents able to go to outdoor venues such as parks and tourist attractions without a recent test.

Industrial centres near Hong Kong have reopened markets and businesses and lifted most curbs on movement while keeping restrictions on neighbourhoods with infections.

Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, said: “This change of policy is a big step forward. I expect China will fully reopen its border no later than mid 2023.”

But the relaxed approach has sparked a rush for Covid treatments as some – including the elderly – now feel more vulnerable to the virus.

Authorities across the country have warned of tight supplies and price gouging from retailers in recent days.

“Please buy rationally, buy on demand, and do not blindly stock up,” the Beijing Municipal Food and Drug Administration reportedly warned.

Analysts at Japanese firm Nomura on Monday estimated that 53 cities – home to nearly a third of China’s population – still had some restrictions in place.