China has announced a series of measures rolling back some of its toughest anti-Covid-19 restrictions.
The move includes limiting the scale of lockdown to individual apartment floors and buildings, rather than entire districts and neighbourhoods.
People who test positive for the virus will be able to isolate at home rather than in overcrowded and unsanitary field hospitals, and schools where there have been no outbreaks must return to in-class teaching.
The announcement follows recent street protests in several cities over the strict “zero-Covid” policy – which has been blamed for upending ordinary life, travel and employment while dealing a harsh blow to the national economy – which is now entering its fourth year.
People with mild cases “can recover by themselves without special medical care,” said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of the China Centres for Disease Control, on his social media account.
“The good news is that the data show the proportion of severe cases is low,” said Mr Wu.
The latest changes are “small steps” in a gradual process aimed at ending restrictions, said Liang Wannian, a member of an experts group advising the National Health Commission, at a news conference.
“We will look at it, study and judge, and analyse again,” said Mr Liang, one of China’s most prominent anti-epidemic experts.
The government’s goal is “to return to the state before the epidemic, but the realisation of the goal must have conditions,” Mr Liang said.
China has sought to maintain the hard-line policy while keeping the world’s second-largest economy humming.
But public frustration with the restrictions appears to have finally swayed the opinion of officials who had championed zero-Covid as superior to the approach of foreign nations that have opened up in hopes of learning to live with the virus.