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China has begun implementing a more relaxed version of its strict “zero COVID” policy amid steps to restore normal life, but also trepidation over a possible broader outbreak once controls are eased. The National Health Commission announced relaxed anti-pandemic regulations on Wednesday, including a loosening of lockdowns and the elimination of a requirement that a recent negative COVID-19 test be shown to enter most public places.  Also among the changes is a renewed commitment to vaccinate vulnerable groups and the elderly, whose levels of immunization are far lower than the population as a whole. China has administered 3.4 billion doses to its 1.4 billion people, or about 2.4 doses per person, indicating that large numbers have not received the recommended three shots.

A day after China announced the rollback of some of its most stringent COVID-19 restrictions, people across the country are greeting the news with a measure of relief but also caution, as many wait to see how the new approach will be implemented. Online, government ministries and hospitals are already switching their messaging about how to deal with COVID-19 at home if one gets sick. Beijing resident Yang Guangwei, 65, said: “All the policies are there, but when it gets to the local level, when it gets to the sub-district level, your neighborhood, it’s a complete mess."

In a move that caught many by surprise, China announced a potentially major easing of its rigid “zero-COVID" restrictions. But it didn't abandon the policy altogether. The move follows the widest-spread protests against the ruling Communist Party in more than 30 years. Many protesters were fed up with constant testing, rolling lockdowns and business closures. One major change allows people who test positive for COVID-19, but show no or only mild symptoms, to recuperate at home. The old policy would have required admission to one of the government field hospitals that have become notorious for overcrowding and poor food and hygiene. Considerable ambiguity remains, however, and it's not clear if the new rules entirely override earlier mandates.

Shares are mostly lower in Asia after Wall Street sagged under weakness in tech stocks.  Japan revised upward its GDP data to show the economy contracted less than earlier reported in July-September. Shares rose in Hong Kong as investors studied the potential impact of a rollback of many pandemic restrictions on the Chinese mainland. U.S. futures edged lower while oil prices rebounded. On Wednesday, the S&P 500 ended 0.2% lower while the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite lost 0.5%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended just barely in the green. More data on inflation and consumer sentiment is due at the end of the week.

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