China promises change but sticks to strict ‘zero COVID’ plan.

China promises change but sticks to strict ‘zero COVID’ plan.

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leaders pledged Thursday to improve quarantine and other anti-virus policies after public frustration erupted in protests, but said they would stick to a strict “zero COVID” strategy that has confined millions of people in their homes and has disrupted the economy.

President Xi Jinping’s government is imposing some of the world’s most extreme virus restrictions, despite rising costs, while other countries are easing travel and other restrictions. The government has given no indication of when it might ease controls that have shut down Shanghai and other major cities for weeks at a time to find and isolate every infected person.

The ruling Communist Party’s seven-member standing committee said it would “absolutely adhere” to “zero COVID” but promised to make it less disruptive. He said 20 changes were approved, including quarantine, testing and treatment, but did not elaborate. The party has promised to release “exclusive people” who are in quarantine or have been barred for weeks from leaving cities where there are cases.

“We will protect people’s lives and health to the maximum extent and minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development,” party leaders said in a statement.

“Zero COVID” has kept China’s infection rate relatively low, but it has weighed on the economy and disrupted life by closing schools, factories and shops or sealing off neighborhoods without warning. The shutdown of Shanghai and other industrial centers since March sent shockwaves through global trade.

Following a new surge in cases, a growing number of areas are closing businesses and imposing restrictions on movement. Videos posted on social media show people in some areas protesting or fighting with police and health workers.

On Thursday, the National Health Commission reported that 1,133 new cases had been detected in the previous 24 hours, including 500 in the southern business center of Guangzhou, the latest hot spot. In addition, it said tests found 7,691 people infected without showing symptoms.

Forecasters say Chinese economic growth is weakening again after rebounding to 3.9 percent from a year earlier in the quarter ended September, from 2.2 percent in the first half. Economists expect annual growth to be up to 3%, less than half of last year’s 8.1%.

The Standing Committee was appointed last month by a party congress that also extended Xi’s political rule by appointing him to a third five-year term as leader. Filled with his allies.

“Zero COVID” requires people to show a negative result from a virus test taken as often as once a day to enter office buildings, malls and other public places. People from cities with one case last week are barred from visiting Beijing, the capital.

Travelers from abroad are asked to quarantine in a hotel for seven to 10 days. Business groups say this discourages foreign executives from visiting, which has prompted companies to shift investment plans to other countries.

Last week, access to part of the central city of Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, was suspended after cases. Thousands of workers walked out of the factory run by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group last month after complaints that colleagues who fell ill did not receive help and working conditions were unsafe.

Also last week, people posted outraged comments on social media after a 3-year-old boy whose North West compound was under quarantine died of carbon monoxide poisoning. His father complained that the guards enforcing the closure refused to help and tried to stop him as he rushed his son to a hospital.

Health experts and economists say “zero COVID” is likely to remain in place for up to another year. They say millions of elderly people need to be vaccinated before Beijing can ease quarantine restrictions on people coming to China.

Share prices of Chinese companies rose in Hong Kong last week after rumors circulated on social media that Beijing was considering easing controls. They backed down after the government did not confirm the rumours.

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