In a major shift, China allows Covid cases with mild symptoms to quarantine at home

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For nearly three years, China has managed Covid-19 as a dangerous disease on par with bubonic plague and cholera.

China’s national health authority said on Wednesday that asymptomatic Covid-19 cases and those with mild symptoms can self-treat while in quarantine at home, the strongest sign so far that China is preparing its people to live with the disease.

Most of the cases are asymptomatic infections and mild cases, with no special treatment required, the National Health Commission said in a statement.

“Asymptomatic persons and mild cases can be isolated at home while strengthening health monitoring, and they can transfer to designated hospitals for treatment in a timely manner if their condition worsens,” the NHC said.

For nearly three years, China has managed Covid-19 as a dangerous disease on par with bubonic plague and cholera, but since last week, top officials have acknowledged the reduced ability of the new coronavirus to cause disease while Chinese experts suggested it is not more deadly than seasonal influenza.

Chinese medical experts have reportedly tabled a bizarre demand, asking authorities to change the name of the Covid-19 virus. According to a report by Reuters, coronavirus’ Chinese name, which identifies it as a pneumonia-causing disease, should be changed to call it simply an infectious virus. Gu Xiaohong, a leading authority on traditional Chinese medicine has raised this demand.

She said that China should change its official name for Covid-19 to reflect the virus’ mutation, and patients with light symptoms should be allowed to quarantine at home.

Gu said the country change from “passive detection” to “active prevention”, with recuperation at home for light cases.

Her remarks are in line with a recent softening of the tone from China’s health experts and state media towards Covid, while authorities have loosened what remain some of the world’s toughest pandemic curbs.

Officials have started to play down the dangers posed by the virus. On Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the “most difficult period had passed”. Therefore, China is likely to announce home quarantine kinds of relaxation on Wednesday as per media reports.

China may also look at reducing or even scrapping the need for people to scan health codes via a smartphone app whenever they enter public places, Bloomberg news reported.

China’s planned changes come after major cities from Beijing to Shanghai and Shenzhen in the past two weeks rapidly wound back policies such as mass testing and broad, sweeping lockdowns that have been hallmarks of China’s punishing approach. The adherence to Covid Zero has hobbled the economy, led to unprecedented social unrest in recent weeks, and left the world’s second-largest economy increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, which has mostly moved on from the pandemic.

China has recorded its highest number of daily Covid cases since the pandemic began, despite stringent measures designed to eliminate the virus.

Several major cities including the capital Beijing and southern trade hub Guangzhou are experiencing outbreaks.

Wednesday saw 31,527 cases recorded compared with an April peak of 28,000.

The numbers are still tiny for a country of 1.4 billion people and officially just over 5,200 have died since the pandemic began.

That equates to three Covid deaths in every million in China, compared with 3,000 per million in the US and 2,400 per million in the UK, although direct comparisons between countries are difficult.

While China’s zero-Covid policy has clearly saved lives, it has also dealt a punishing blow to the economy and ordinary people’s lives.

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