Chinese authorities have called on those with mild COVID symptoms to return to work, in a radical shift from previous strict restrictions, as the world's second-largest economy promotes the resumption of business activities and hospitals suffer from manpower shortages amid a surge in the virus.
Before Beijing significantly relaxed its "zero-COVID" policy on Dec. 7 amid public frustration, even those with no or mild symptoms had been subject to quarantine at designated facilities.
The major policy change and subsequent increase in the number of infections in the country have triggered confusion with cold drugs and antigen test kits sold out and fever-ridden patients flocking to hospitals.
The cities of Chongqing in the southwest and Wuhu in southeastern China have issued notices that workers of the ruling Communist Party, government agencies and private companies can commute to their workplace if needed, as long as their COVID symptoms are mild or asymptomatic.
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The city of Beijing has said it is not necessary to present a negative certificate when returning to work after contracting the virus and recuperating at home. Zhejiang Province in eastern China has also reportedly allowed workers with no symptoms to return to work.
Chinese media said some medical institutions have called on staff with no symptoms to come to work amid the heavy strain on the nation's health care system.
The radical turnaround in the COVID policy has drawn criticism that the government was ill-prepared before easing the restrictions.
However, a senior Communist Party official expressed optimism over the country's economic outlook, saying on Saturday that the policy change "may cause disruptions to the economy in the short-term, but from the perspective of a whole year outlook, it is a boon," according to state media.
Han Wenxiu, executive deputy director of the office of the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs, said that the return to normalcy will pick up pace in the first half of 2023, especially in the second quarter, with increasing economic vitality unleashed, the official Xinhua News Agency said.