China's Xi told EU chief less lethal Omicron opens way for fewer Covid-19 restrictions

Workers dismantle a temporary shelter outside a neighborhood placed under lockdown in Beijing on Dec 1, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BRUSSELS - Chinese President Xi Jinping blamed mass protests in Chinese cities on youth frustrated by years of the Covid-19 pandemic, but said the now dominant Omicron variant of the virus paved the way for fewer restrictions, European Union officials said.

The senior EU officials, who asked not to be named, recounted the main points of a visit to Beijing by European Council President Charles Michel, who met Mr Xi along with other senior EU officials on Thursday.

The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the protests against pandemic restrictions in recent days across more than 20 Chinese cities were among the topics raised by the EU.

“The response we got from the president was an explanation why there were protests – explaining that after three years of Covid-19 he had an issue, because people were frustrated, it was mainly students or teenagers,” one senior EU official said.

“I think that as a way out ... President Xi said that now Covid-19 in China was mainly Omicron. The Delta variant before was much more lethal and Omicron was less lethal, which opened the way for more openness with the restrictions - what we have already seen in some regions,” the EU official said.

EU officials said Mr Michel told Mr Xi that in Europe the focus of the first phase of the pandemic was very much on isolation, quarantine and testing, but it later shifted to vaccination.

“My sense was that this was something that was informative and I had a feeling that China on its side would be increasingly looking to encourage its citizens to be vaccinated, to follow a tiny bit the European experience,” a second EU official said.

He added that Mr Xi told the EU delegation that vaccination rates in China were high except for among the elderly, which was a challenge that caused the Covid-19 restrictions.

China reported 33,073 new Covid-19 infections for Dec 2, of which 3,988 were symptomatic and 29,085 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said on Saturday.

That compared with 34,980 new cases a day earlier – 4,278 symptomatic and 30,702 asymptomatic infections, which China counts separately.

Excluding imported infections, China reported 32,827 new local cases, of which 3,933 were symptomatic and 28,894 were asymptomatic, down from 34,772 a day earlier. There were no deaths, the same as the previous day, keeping fatalities at 5,233.

As of Friday, mainland China had confirmed 331,952 cases with symptoms. Case numbers are slipping as China loosens restrictions in some cities, including testing requirements and quarantine rules, and is expected to announce an easing of its Covid-19 quarantine protocols in the coming days.

China’s capital Beijing reported 703 symptomatic and 2,610 asymptomatic cases, compared with 942 symptomatic and 3,026 asymptomatic cases the previous day, local government data showed.

Financial hub Shanghai reported 27 symptomatic cases and 264 asymptomatic cases, compared with 26 symptomatic cases and 209 asymptomatic cases a day before, the local health authority reported.

Guangzhou, a city in the south of nearly 19 million people, reported 826 new locally transmitted symptomatic and 4,096 asymptomatic cases, compared with 654 symptomatic and 5,185 asymptomatic cases a day before, local authorities said.

Chongqing reported 205 new symptomatic locally transmitted COVID-19 infections and 5,640 asymptomatic cases, compared with 189 symptomatic and 6,347 asymptomatic cases the previous day, local government authorities said. REUTERS

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