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China’s looser anti-COVID measures met with relief, caution

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By HUIZHONG WU

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — People across China reacted with relief and caution Thursday to the dramatic government decision to loosen some of the world’s most severe COVID-19 restrictions.

For the first time in months, Jenny Jian hit the gym in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou without being required to scan the “health code” on her smartphone, part of a nationwide system that tracks where hundreds of millions of people go.

Elsewhere, virus tests no longer were required to enter many public places under changes announced Wednesday that followed nationwide protests against restrictions that have confined millions of families to their homes. Schools in areas without outbreaks were ordered to reopen.

“It was implemented very quickly,” said Jian, a 28-year-old resident of the southern city of Guangzhou. “But policy is one thing. The main thing is to see what the experience is when I step out the door.”

The changes are in line with the government’s promise to make restrictions less burdensome while still trying to contain the virus. While it’s not clear if the new rules are a direct response to the protests, they address some of the most pressing issues that drove people on the streets.

The state crackdown on the demonstrations was swift, if largely out of sight, and the flash of public anger faded from view even before the changes were announced. For now, it’s unclear whether more protests will flare given a quickly changing situation.

Among the most significant changes announced was that people who test positive for COVID-19 but show mild or no symptoms can now stay at home — a 180-degree turn from the previous policy, which sent all infected people to government field hospitals that became notorious for overcrowding and poor food and hygiene.

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