New China COVID rules spur concern as some cities halt routine tests
Some areas of Beijing are requiring daily tests
Several Chinese cities began cutting routine community COVID-19 testing on Monday, days after China announced an easing of some of its heavy-handed coronavirus measures, sparking worry in some communities as nationwide cases continued to rise.
In the northern city of Shijiazhuang, some families expressed concern about exposing their children to the virus at school, giving excuses such as toothaches or earaches for their children's absence, according to social media posts following a state media report that testing in the city would end.
Other cities, including Yanji in the northeast and Hefei in the east, also said they will stop routine community COVID testing, according to official notices, halting a practice that has become a major fiscal burden for communities across China.
On Friday, the National Health Commission updated its COVID rules in the most significant easing of curbs yet, describing the changes as an "optimisation" of its measures to soften the impact on people's lives, even as China sticks to its zero-COVID policy nearly three years into the pandemic.
The move, which cut quarantine times for close contacts of cases and inbound travellers by two days, to eight days total, was applauded by investors, even though many experts don't expect China to begin significant easing until March or April at the earliest.
The changes come even as several major cities including Beijing logged record infections on Monday, posing a challenge for authorities scrambling to quell outbreaks quickly while trying to minimise the impact on people's lives and the economy.
Some areas of Beijing are requiring daily tests.
The concern and confusion in Shijiazhuang was a top-five trending topic on the Twitter-like Weibo.
Nationwide, 16,072 new locally transmitted cases were reported by the National Health Commission, up from 14,761 on Sunday and the most in China since April 25, when Shanghai was battling an outbreak that locked down the city for two months.
Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Zhengzhou all recorded their worst days so far, though in the capital city the tally was a few hundred cases, while the other cities were counting in thousands.
Case numbers are small compared with infection levels in other countries, but China's insistence on clearing outbreaks as soon as they emerge under its zero-COVID policy has been widely disruptive to daily life and the economy.
Under the new rules unveiled on Friday, individuals, neighbourhoods and public spaces can still be subject to lockdowns, but the health commission relaxed some measures.