Local authorities in Guangzhou announced that lockdowns would be lifted in seven districts of the southern city after demonstrations earlier this week. Schools, restaurants, and businesses will now reopen.
More than 20 designated high-risk areas of Shanghai will also be released from lockdown after several demonstrations took place in China’s financial centre over the past week.
Citizens of Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, will now be allowed “to resume business activities in an orderly manner”. City authorities said supermarkets, barbershops and libraries could reopen.
The capital, Beijing, will ease requirements for testing and quarantine, and several shopping centres in the city announced plans to reopen. China’s vice-premier, Sun Chunlan, who oversees Covid control, said the threat from the virus was decreasing.
“The country is facing a new situation as the pathogenicity of the Omicron virus weakens, more people are vaccinated, and experience in containing the virus is accumulated,” she said in comments reported by state media.
Ting Lu, of the financial analysis group Nomura, said: “We believe Sun’s speech, in addition to the notable easing of Covid control measures in Guangzhou yesterday, sends yet another strong signal that the zero-Covid policy will end within the next few months.”
Hu Xijin, of the Chinese state-owned Global Times, tweeted: “China is speeding up to cast aside large-scale lockdowns.”
Case numbers dropped slightly from record highs to about 36,000 on Wednesday, still much lower than peaks in other countries.
But the relaxation of protocols has been accompanied by a crackdown on protests that spread across the country following a fire in the Xinjiang province that killed 10 people on November 24. Demonstrators targeted Covid testing booths, amid allegations that restrictions had hampered firefighters.
Protests reached China’s largest cities, Shanghai and Beijing, with reports of chants calling for the ruling Communist party and leader Xi Jinping to step down.
China’s ambassador to the UK was summoned last week to explain the treatment of Ed Lawrence who was arrested while covering protests against Xi Jinping’s zero Covid policy which includes draconian lockdown restrictions.
Foreign Office minister David Rutley told the Commons on Tuesday afternoon “a full and thorough explanation” will be demanded of the Chinese ambassador.
Residents of Beijing have reported being subjected to random checks from police, and phones being searched for evidence of involvement in protests.
Several arrests have been made but Chinese authorities have not released any figures.
Authorities have launched a campaign to vaccinate the country’s elderly population. Fewer than two-thirds of people aged over 80 have received booster shots.