Xi Jinping acknowledges Covid-zero protests, rehearses relaxation: official

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China’s President Xi Jinping has acknowledged public frustration amid his government’s relentless Covid-zero strategy, a European Union official told the CNN this Friday (2), in his first known comments on the protests that have erupted across the country in recent days.

Xi explained to European Council President Charles Michel in Beijing on Thursday that the protesters were “mainly students” who were frustrated after three years of Covid-19 and hinted at the potential relaxation of prevention measures.

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“Xi also stated that the Omicron variant is less deadly than Delta, which makes the Chinese government feel more open to further relaxing Covid restrictions,” it continued.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing European professional standards.

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However, the official did not confirm whether Xi uttered the word “protest” in Mandarin, or said exactly what words the Chinese leader used to describe the recent unrest over the restrictions.

Rare demonstrations have rocked China in recent days as the country nears the end of a third year of tight controls on civilian life.

The wave of protests is the biggest since the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement of 1989. Since Xi came to power in 2012, the Communist Party has tightened its grip on all aspects of life, launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent and built a high surveillance state.

Xi’s remarks come as some areas of China show signs of lifting some Covid restrictions, including lifting lockdowns and allowing some Covid patients to quarantine at home.

Foreign officials have noted Beijing’s shift in pandemic restrictions. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman declared that the widespread protests in China “had an effect” on loosening some Covid rules.

Speaking at an event at the American University, Sherman noted that the demonstrations have subsided and communicated that part of the reason is because “they’ve really had an effect”, citing the example of China quarantining people at home.

“At the same time, I am naive and the Chinese used their security forces to quell the protests,” she added.

“So this is not good news. But protests matter.”

Starting next Monday (5), public transport operators in Beijing will no longer bar passengers if they do not have a negative result of the Covid-19 test taken in the previous 48 hours, the city government said in a statement.

The new rule, which applies to buses and subways, is a reversal of the tightening of the city’s containment measures announced 10 days ago.

However, the country has yet to announce any roadmap for reopening and removing its myriad Covid restrictions across the country.

The top official in charge of China’s Covid response informed health authorities on Wednesday (30) that the country faced a “new stage and mission” in controlling the pandemic.

“With the decreasing toxicity of the Omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate, and the accumulated experience of controlling and preventing outbreaks, China’s pandemic containment faces a new stage and mission,” said Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

Source: CNN Brasil

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