The Chinese city of Guangzhou abruptly ended some COVID-19 lockdowns as officials signaled an easing of virus restrictions. File Photo by Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE
Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Two of China's largest cities -- Guangzhou in the south and Chongqing, announced an easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, which could indicate a possible change in the country's zero-COVID policy that has led to widespread protests.
Chongqing, which has a population of 30 million people, will now allow some close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases to quarantine at home rather than in centralized, government-run isolation centers.
In Guangzhou, with 15 million people, lockdowns were abruptly ended in some parts of the city. Health officials there said the government should seek to minimize the "inconvenience caused to the public" by anti-virus measures.
Shanghai, China's largest city and the world's second most-populous municipality, has dropped some lockdown restrictions as well.
The intense quarantines, which could be ordered with small clusters of the virus, have led to entire cities being locked down for months.
Nationwide protests calling for the ouster of President Xi Jinping erupted last month in response to the death of 10 residents under lockdown in an apartment building that caught on fire in the western Xinjiang region.
In the midst of the protests, China's Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan gave another indication of the communist government's changing lockdown view when she acknowledged on Wednesday that the Omicron variant, while more contagious, is not as dangerous as the original virus.
That fact has been recognized by many Western countries, including the United States, about the current dominant variant, leading to are opening of many economies and dropping widespread lockdown rules.
"With the decreasing pathogenicity of the Omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate and the accumulating experience of outbreak control and prevention, China's pandemic containment faces a new stage and mission," Sun said.