China has suspended or closed the social media accounts of more than 1,000 people critical of government policies over the COVID-19 outbreak, as the country moves to lift strict anti-virus restrictions.
Popular social media platform Sina Weibo says it has resolved 12,854 violations including attacks on professionals, academics and medical staff, and issued temporary or permanent bans on 1,120 account.
The ruling Communist Party relies heavily on the medical community to justify its tough lockdown measures, quarantine measures and mass testing, almost all of which they abruptly abandoned last month. , leading to an increase in new infections that drained medical resources. The party does not allow direct criticism and imposes strict limits on freedom of expression.
The company “will continue to strengthen the investigation and clean up of all kinds of illegal content, and create a harmonious and friendly community environment for the majority of users,” Sina Weibo said in a statement. announced on Thursday.
Criticism has largely focused on the harsh enforcement of the regulations, including unlimited travel restrictions that keep people confined to their homes for weeks, sometimes locked inside without any help. enough food or medical care. Anger has also been vented at the demand that anyone potentially testing positive or having been in contact with such a person be detained for observation in a makeshift hospital, where it is often assumed that the condition overcrowded, poor food and poor hygiene.
The social and economic costs have ultimately led to rare street protests in Beijing and other cities, which could influence the party’s decision to quickly ease strict measures strictest.
As part of the latest changes, China will also no longer criminally prosecute people accused of violating border quarantine regulations, according to a notice issued by five government agencies. on Saturday.
Individuals currently in custody will be released and confiscated property returned, the notice said.
The adjustments “were made after comprehensively considering the harmful effects of the acts on society, and are aimed at adapting to the new circumstances of epidemic prevention and control,” the official website of China Daily said. Daily said in a report on the announcement.
China is currently facing an increase in infections and hospitalizations in major cities, while bracing for the spread to less developed regions as the peak of Tet tourism begins. Lunar New Year, which is expected to take place in the coming days. While international flights remain down, authorities say they expect domestic rail and air journeys to double from the same period last year, bringing the overall figure close to the same period last year. holiday in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
The Department of Transport on Friday urged travelers to reduce trips and gatherings, especially if they involve the elderly, pregnant women, young children and those with underlying medical conditions.
Vice Minister Xu Chengguang told reporters at a press conference that people using public transport are also encouraged to wear masks and pay special attention to health and personal hygiene.
However, China is working on a plan to end the mandatory quarantine for people arriving from abroad starting Sunday.
Beijing also plans to drop the requirement that students at schools in the city have to test negative for COVID-19 to enter school when classes resume on February 13 after the holiday. The city’s education department said in a statement Friday that although schools will be allowed to move classes online in the event of a new outbreak, they must return to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. good.
However, the cessation of mass testing, the very limited amount of basic data such as the number of deaths, infections and severe cases, and the potential for new variants to emerge have prompted governments elsewhere. introduced virus testing requirements for travelers from China.
The World Health Organization also expressed concern about the lack of data from China, while the US is requesting negative test results for travelers from China within 48 hours of departure.
Chinese health authorities publish daily numbers of new cases, severe cases and deaths, but these numbers only include officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition of related deaths. to COVID.
Authorities say that since the government ended mandatory testing and allowed people with mild symptoms to self-test and treat at home, it can no longer provide a complete picture of the situation. status of the latest outbreak.
On Saturday, the National Health Commission reported 10,681 new cases in the country, bringing the country’s total confirmed cases to 482,057. Three new deaths were also reported in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 5,267.
These numbers are only a fraction of those published by the United States, which has brought the death toll to more than 1 million out of 101 million infections.
But they are also much smaller than estimates published by some local governments. Zhejiang, a province on the east coast, on Tuesday said it had about 1 million new cases a day.
China says the test requirements imposed by foreign governments – most recently Germany and Sweden – are not based on science and have threatened unspecified countermeasures. Its spokesman said the situation was under control and denied accusations of lack of preparation for reopening.
Despite such assertions, the Health Commission on Saturday introduced regulations to strengthen surveillance of virus mutations, including testing municipal wastewater. The lengthy rules call for increased data collection from hospitals and local government health departments, and increased testing for “pneumonia of unknown cause”.
If a variant appears during an outbreak, it will be found through genetic sequencing of the virus.
Since the pandemic began, China has shared 4,144 sequences with GISAID, a global platform for coronavirus data. That’s just 0.04% of reported cases – a rate 100 times lower than that of the United States and nearly four times that of neighboring Mongolia.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong also plans to reopen some border crossings with mainland China on Sunday and allow tens of thousands of people to pass through each day without being quarantined.
The semi-autonomous southern Chinese city has been hit hard by the virus, and land and sea border checkpoints with the mainland have largely been closed for nearly three years. Despite the risks, the reopening is expected to provide a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors.
This story has been corrected to show that China’s latest figures for cases and deaths were released on Saturday instead of Sunday.