BEIJING: China announced Wednesday (Dec 7) a nationwide loosening of COVID-19 restrictions following protests against the hardline strategy that grew into calls for greater political freedoms.

Under the new guidelines, some asymptomatic and mild cases of COVID-19 can now quarantine at home, ending a requirement that all positive cases be isolated in centralised government facilities.

Most of the cases are asymptomatic infections and mild cases, with no special treatment required, the National Health Commission (NHC) said in a statement.

“Asymptomatic persons and mild cases can be isolated at home while strengthening health monitoring, and they can transfer to designated hospitals for treatment in a timely manner if their condition worsens,” the NHC added.

The frequency and scope of PCR testing will also be reduced, the National Health Commission (NHC) said.

Mandatory mass testing – long a tedious mainstay of life in zero-COVID China – will be restricted to “high-risk” areas and schools.

People travelling between provinces will also no longer require a negative test taken within 48 hours, and they will not have to test upon arrival, according to the new rules.

The announcement came in the wake of rare demonstrations across the country against the ruling Communist Party’s hardline zero-COVID strategy.

The protests expanded into calls for more political freedoms, with some even calling for President Xi Jinping to resign.

Wednesday’s announcement came hours after the government released further data showing the crippling economic impacts of zero-COVID.

Imports and exports plunged in November to levels not seen since early 2020.

Imports in November fell 10.6 per cent year-on-year, the biggest drop since May 2020, according to the General Administration of Customs. Exports fell 8.7 per cent over the same period.

For nearly three years, China has managed COVID-19 as a dangerous disease on par with bubonic plague and cholera, but since last week, top officials have acknowledged the reduced ability of the new coronavirus to cause disease while Chinese experts suggested it is not more deadly than seasonal influenza.