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On Tuesday, the Chinese celebrated the withdrawal of a state-run app used to track travel to areas affected by COVID-19, a further step towards easing procedures to resolve the “zero Covid” policy.

After Chinese authorities deactivated the “flight code” app at midnight on Monday, four Chinese telecommunications companies said they would delete user data associated with the app.

Netizens welcomed the withdrawal of the app, which had been criticized for its potential use in mass surveillance.

This application was called “travel map”, and it was based on the phone signal and allowed its users to prove to anyone who asked them (hotel, office building, etc.) the places they had been in the past seven days.

The application displays a list of cities, or even districts, in which the person was located. If none of them are classified as “high risk” (with a large number of infections), the application displays a green arrow, which means that traffic is allowed.

The measure followed others such as easing requirements for COVID-19 tests, lifting domestic travel restrictions and allowing infected people to be quarantined at home instead of being sent to specialized facilities.

And the pace of abandoning the strict restrictions of the Chinese authorities escalated after this policy led to the detention of millions of people in their homes, and was the cause of the decline in economic growth and the outbreak of protests.

The sudden step of gradually easing these measures has raised questions about the reasons for this and the possible consequences for the country.

And “CNN” under the title: “The world changed overnight” indicates that the new agreement with the policy of zero covid brings joy and fear to China.

He explains that these measures followed an unprecedented wave of protests across the country against the Covid restrictions, and in a swift change of direction by a government that had long confirmed its intention to pursue a “zero Covid” policy.

Although health authorities made minor changes to the policy last month, the central government did not issue any official signs of an immediate change to its strategy until last week.

The government and state media have long emphasized the risks and potential long-term effects of the virus and used this to justify maintaining the policy.

Then, in a sudden twist, newspapers loyal to the ruling love published articles discussing the nature of the milder “Omicron” virus, creating a sense of confusion among some government policymakers.

American analyst Paulo Van Chirac believes that the reasons for this move are mostly protests, because they are unprecedented, and protests are not something that the Chinese leadership is used to, and he understands that the restrictions imposed on the general public were too many, and that this situation can get out of control, that’s why I decided to reduce the procedures.

Lifting all restrictions will not be a smooth process, “but we are moving decisively and there is no going back,” Chen Long of Beijing-based consultancy Plenum told the Financial Times.

The South China Morning Post asked: Is this the beginning of the end of China’s policy of not spreading the Covid-19 virus?

She said the changes were in line with measures announced last month by the Politburo Standing Committee to “improve” controls to reduce disruption to the economy and social life, but implementation had apparently been speeded up, following widespread protests last month against the strict policies of zero Covid ban in big cities weekend..

The protests were sparked after a fire at an apartment building in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang region, killed 10 and injured nine.

The tragedy caused outrage online, with many believing that the foxes prevented the victims from escaping.

Angry residents took to the streets demanding an end to the quarantine imposed more than 100 days ago. The next day, the local government announced that the restrictions would be lifted “gradually”.

Across the country, residents gathered to hold vigils against the strict controls, and protests were seen on university campuses in places like Beijing, Xi’an, Nanjing, Chongqing and Wuhan.

With the easing of restrictions, the Associated Press said subways and buses in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities are filling up with commuters returning to offices.

It has also been noted in recent days that travel restrictions in the aviation sector have been eased.

Public broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday that the number of flights at Beijing’s two main airports is expected to reach 70 percent of 2019 levels “in the near future”.

Bert Hoffman, director of the East Asia Institute at the National University of Singapore, said the new guidelines were a “big step”.

“Although there are still many challenges, this is a clear step towards greater openness and reducing the dominance of COVID in society and the economy,” he added.

But while the changes were greeted with relief by many, and debates erupted online about freedom of travel within the country and possible international travel in the future, there was also a sense of uncertainty about the future.

Changes amid economic problems

The changes come as China struggles with economic difficulties due to Covid-19, financial problems in the local real estate market and the global fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Partial work restrictions have strained industrial supply chains, and the state budget has been partially squeezed by additional spending on lockdown controls.

The budget deficit in the first 10 months of this year was three times higher than the amount in the same period last year, according to Bloomberg.

The economy grew 3.9 percent in the third quarter, well below the government’s target of about 5.5 percent, according to Bloomberg.

Data from China’s Ministry of Commerce for the month of November reflect the extent of the growing pressure on the Chinese economy, as they show that exports and imports fell by the largest rate in several years due to weak global demand for Chinese goods.

The country’s exports fell 8.7 percent year-on-year to $296 billion, the biggest drop since the pandemic began in January 2020.

Imports fell 10.6 percent to $226 billion, the biggest drop in two and a half years.

China’s exports to the rest of the world rose during the early stages of the pandemic, boosted by international demand for goods during the quarantine, but that strength has faded amid broader economic pressures from the property crisis and a “zero Covid” approach that has reduced economic activity.

These declines highlight the vulnerability of China’s trade to external demand as other major economies raise interest rates, while at home Covid restrictions weigh on the fragile domestic economy.

Qiu Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, predicted that exports would continue to fall in the coming months as the country goes through a “bumpy reopening process.”

And with weak global demand in 2023, “China will have to rely more on domestic demand,” according to the analyst.

But domestic consumer demand remained muted amid repeated “zero” lockdowns in China, with retail sales falling 0.5 percent year-on-year in October.

Julian Evans-Pritchard, chief economist for China at Capital Economics, said the import data reflected “a fall in domestic demand amid virus containment and weakness in the property sector”.

“A move away from zero Covid will boost domestic demand in the medium term,” he added, but the transition to coexistence with the virus is likely to take some time.

The Covid restrictions have also affected the world, and the governor of the US Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said that the strict restrictions in China have affected the US economy due to the impact on global supply chains.

‘Bad moment for China’

However, American analyst Paulo Van Chirac warns that the sudden openness could have serious repercussions in the foreseeable future, as the country is “not ready” to deal with new cases, which will have a negative impact on the economy.

He said: “Few Chinese are immune and their vaccines are not good, and what will happen in the next few weeks is an increase in the number of infections, especially among the elderly, the most vulnerable and least protected group. Therefore, a new problem can be created by solving another problems.”

He added that the increase in infected people affects the economy, because when people get sick and go to work, they infect others. Then there will be another problem,” he said, describing the situation as “not a good time for China.”

And in case there are no major injuries, economic activities will start again, the economy will start, and that will be good for China, but he believes that in light of the epidemiological situation, the economic impact on China will not be good in the short term.

“If China’s economy is not doing well, it will affect the world again and the same problems will happen as before,” he added.

The analyst looks at another issue, unrelated to Covid, which is the very strict controls imposed by the Communist Party on all sectors of the economy, which limits creativity, because in this case the private sector has to do what the government orders it to do, and that is not good for economy in general, it is a problem with long-term consequences.

He explains that, regardless of Covid, this approach to economic management is not good and will have lasting consequences as long as such a policy continues.

Covid-19 infections are on the rise in Beijing, according to Chinese authorities on Monday, following a sudden and drastic easing of health restrictions that have so far allowed the country to contain the outbreak.

In the Chinese capital, authorities said on Monday that more than 22,000 patients went to the “fever” ward of Beijing hospitals last Sunday, more than 16 times the previous Sunday.

“The current trend of the rapid spread of the epidemic in Beijing remains intact,” Li Ang, a spokesman for the city’s health commission, told a news conference.

Official figures show that local cases have been on a downward trend in recent weeks since a peak in late November of 40,052 cases.

Sunday’s number of 8,626 was down from 10,597 new cases the day before. However, since mandatory testing has been drastically curtailed and testing stations dismantled, official case numbers are no longer considered a reliable measure.

On Sunday, China’s top disease expert warned of a looming surge in cases.

In an effort to counter the surge in COVID-19 cases, China has built more intensive care facilities and sought to support hospitals.

In the entire country, there is one intensive care bed per 10,000 inhabitants, which is significantly less than in other countries.

With low vaccination rates among the vulnerable elderly population, the rapid rule change has caused some fear and anxiety among the population. There are also widespread reports of drug shortages and rapid checks in pharmacies and online.

Bloomberg says the new plan, however, provides a blueprint for living with the virus

Some experts believe China’s exit from Covid will inevitably be chaotic as the virus overwhelms the health infrastructure faster than expected, as happened in many places, notably Hong Kong in early 2022.

Another possibility is the emergence of a new variable that is mild enough to reopen the government without harming the population, although there may not be enough time for officials to wait for that, given the momentum building to reopen.

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