Top Chinese health officials have pledged to rectify Covid-19 control measures to reduce their impact on people’s lives, while deflecting blame for public frustration away from politics itself, during their first press briefing since protests erupted against the government’s strict zero-Covid policy over the weekend.
Lockdowns to suppress the spread of the virus should be lifted “as soon as possible” after outbreaks, health officials said at a National Health Commission press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, as they were defending the country’s overall policy direction – which aims to eradicate the spread of the virus through rigorous controls.
Cheng Youquan, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said “some problems” recently reported by the public are not due to the measures, but to their implementation by local authorities taking a “one-size-fits-all approach”. ” He said that some controls had been implemented “in an excessive way”, in defiance of the demands of the population.
Protests against the country’s zero Covid policy, which includes a combination of lockdowns, enforced quarantines and strict border controls, erupted across China over the weekend, with citizens taking to the city streets and on university campuses to demand an end to the restrictive measures.
While protests in several parts of China appear to have largely dispersed peacefully over the weekend, some have been met with a stronger response from authorities – and security has been tightened in cities with police deployed across major protest sites following the demonstrations.
At Tuesday’s press conference, officials did not directly address the protests, but commission spokesman Mi Feng said governments should “respond and resolve the reasonable demands of the masses” in time. timely.
When asked if the government is reconsidering its Covid policies, Mi said the authorities “have studied and adjusted our pandemic containment measures to protect the interests of the people as much as possible and limit the impact on communities as much as possible. people”.
Earlier this month, China announced 20 measures intended to streamline Covid-19 controls and reign in ‘excessive political measures’ taken by local authorities – who are under pressure from Beijing to control the number of cases in their regions.
The protests – and promises to fine-tune the implementation of the policy – come as the country faces its largest surge of cases.
China identified 38,421 locally transmitted cases on Monday, according to the National Health Commission, ending six consecutive days of record infections.
Low vaccination rate among old people have long been cited by authorities as a reason why China must maintain strict controls over the virus. On Tuesday, authorities also announced an “action plan” to increase vaccination rates among these high-risk people. band.
The increase in this rate is considered necessary to eventually reopen the country and relax the strict measures.
As of Nov. 28, about 90% of China’s total population had received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about 66% of people over the age of 80 had completed two doses, officials said Tuesday.
Reactions to the officials’ statements on Chinese social media suggested they had done little to quell frustration and anger over the zero-Covid policy. During a live broadcast of the press conference on state media, many users called for an end to Covid testing and a centralized quarantine.
“We have been cooperating with you for three years, now is the time to return our freedom,” said one of the leading comments on the live stream, which was run by state media on social media platform Weibo.
“Can you stop filtering our comments? Listen people, the sky won’t fall,” another wrote, referring to censorship on the platform.
In a separate briefing on Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry defended Covid-19 control measures and civil rights in the country – where authorities routinely use sweeping surveillance and security capabilities to stifle dissent.
“China is a country governed by the rule of law, Chinese citizens enjoy various legal rights and freedoms which are fully protected by law,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said when asked about the protests during a briefing. regular briefing on Tuesday. “At the same time, all rights and freedoms must be exercised within the framework of the law.”
Asian stocks rallied on Tuesday on signs authorities had successfully contained protests, then on hopes the health commission would announce an easing of Covid restrictions.
Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index ended the day up more than 5%. In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index and the Shenzhen Component Index both ended up more than 2%, while the CSI300 index, which tracks the largest listed stocks, closed up more than 3%.