Beijing will issue a mandate to vaccinate certain venues. This is the first such mandate in China since the outbreak of the pandemic. It comes as China deals with the Omicron BA.5 strain, which is highly contagious.
The Beijing Health Commission stated that everyone entering libraries, museums and cinemas, art galleries or sports venues, entertainment venues, or other crowded areas in Beijing must be immunized starting next week.
China has so far refused mass vaccination mandates in pursuit of “zero COVID”. Instead, it relies on strict lockdowns and contact tracing, automatically tracking people’s travel history, mass PCR testing, and strict lockdowns to stop outbreaks from arising.
However, workers in high-risk sectors such as public transport were previously required to be vaccinated.
The mandate appears to be a radical change in policy.
China Daily, a Communist Party-controlled newspaper that was published in July 2013, stated: “Vaccination must not be compulsory but voluntary.”
In recent weeks and months, both Beijing and Shanghai appeared to have managed the Omicron variant outbreaks.
This led to , a prolonged, severe lockdown that kept Shanghai residents locked up for months. They were forced to live in their homes and rely on the government for groceries.
Other big cities are also struggling with increasing cases. The cases are soaring in Anhui province, which is near Shanghai. After detecting 18 more cases, Xi’an (the capital of Shaanxi Province) announced that it would take lockdown measures.
These cases were Omicron BA.5 rather than the BA.2.2 variant that was responsible for recent outbreaks in Shanghai and Beijing.
Zhang Yi, a representative of the Shaanxi centre for disease prevention and control, stated that Omicron BA.5 is more transmissible than the BA2.2 sublineage and is more likely to spread faster and is more susceptible to antibodies.
The dominant strain is the BA.5 variant in the US. It appears that it is driving an increase in infections here too.
In Beijing, the variant was also detected over the past two days. In the past 24 hours, six new cases have been reported. It is not known if the new mandated vaccine by the government was related to that.
“Disappointed and angry”
Initial reactions online were negative to the announcement. One Weibo user stated that the Chinese law forbids forcing vaccinations.
Another wrote: “Disappointed, angry at the Beijing vaccination policy.”
Beijing claimed that it had fully vaccinated 97.7% its residents by September last year, but reported April that almost 20% of those over 60 had not received their first dose of vaccines according to Reuters.
The number of new infections in China is still very low, with only 353 cases reported Wednesday.
The government announced some changes to COVID-zero, including a shorter quarantine time for international travelers and an easing of internal travel restrictions. However, they are not abandoning the policy.
President Xi Jinping stated that persistence is the key to victory in fighting the epidemic.
The World Health Organisation previously stated that China’s zero COVID strategy was not sustainable.