Chinese expert demands new name for Covid as more restrictions are rolled back following protests

A top Chinese medical expert has urged the country to change the official name given for Covid-19 because the virus that causes the disease has mutated, soon after the country relaxed strict anti-Covid rules in a major policy shift.

Gu Xiaohong, a leading authority on traditional Chinese medicine, told state-run Beijing Daily newspaper that the coronavirus’s Chinese name should be changed and simply be referred to as an infectious virus, Reuters reported.

Ms Gu, the head of the China Association of Chinese Medicine’s infectious disease arm, said the association had reached a consensus to change the name of the virus and tabled this demand.

She also called for a change in China’s approach to curbing the spread of the virus to “active prevention” from “passive detection”.

The call by the expert is in step with the country’s announcement of sweeping changes to its anti-Covid or “zero-Covid” policy on Wednesday.

Residents cheered the loosening of many restrictions that included allowing infected people with mild or no symptoms to quarantine at home and dropping testing requirements for people travelling within the country.

The National Health Commission, in its 10-point announcement on Tuesday, said Covid tests and a clean bill of health displayed on a smartphone app will no longer be required, except in vulnerable areas like nurseries, elderly care facilities and schools, the Associated Press reported.

The new rules also stated that the scale of lockdowns will now be limited to individual apartment floors and buildings and not entire districts and neighbourhoods.

The new policy also stressed that basic social and medical services need to be provided. People’s movements, work and production should not be restricted in low-risk areas.

The South China Morning Post reported that other measures by the government included speeding up vaccination of people over 60 years of age and increasing measures to educate medical staff on vaccination contraindications – specific instances where a particular substance should not be given to people to avoid harm.

When it comes to schools, the new policy mentions that those without Covid outbreaks should resume classes as normal. Supermarkets, cafeterias, gyms and libraries will also open up.

In some regions, cinemas have opened up as well, reported Beijing Daily.

According to the new rules, if an outbreak does occur, the affected school should designate “risk zones” and make sure normal teaching and social order continues outside the zones.

Experts said this was the first significant indication of China preparing its citizens to live with the virus.

After three years of restrictions since the onset of Covid, Chinese citizens have expressed anger and resentment over the government’s zero-covid policy.

In the past few days, protests were carried out across China by angry citizens over the strict lockdown conditions, sparked by a fire in a block of flats in western Xinjiang’s Urumqi city, that led to the deaths of 10 people.

Protesters said the people could have been saved, had it not been for stringent lockdown measures, an allegation denied by the government.

Meanwhile, vice-premier Sun Chunlan who is also China’s top official in charge of Covid controls acknowledged last week that the nature of the virus had changed and that the new variants were less pathogenic.

She said the country was facing “a new phase and new tasks” adding that the fine tuning of Covid measures would occur “in small steps but non-stop”.

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, citizens were jubilant over the announcement of the relaxed rules. “It’s time for our lives to return to normal, and for China to return to the world,” Reuters quoted one Weibo user as saying.