SHANGHAI: China said on Saturday (Dec 10) it would stop checking truck drivers and ship crew transporting goods domestically for COVID-19, removing a key bottleneck from its supply chain network as a dismantling of the country’s zero-COVID policy gathers speed.
The country this week made a dramatic pivot toward economic reopening, loosening key parts of the COVID-19 policy in a shift that has been welcomed by a weary public but also is now stoking concerns that infections could spike and cause further disruptions.
With Beijing requiring less testing and letting those with mild to no symptoms quarantine at home, the focus has shifted to ensuring adequate provisions of medicines and shoring up the country’s healthcare system, which experts say could be quickly overwhelmed.
Three years after the coronavirus emerged in central China, citizens were eager for Beijing to start to align with the rest of the world, which has largely opened up in an effort to live with COVID-19. After widespread protests, the authorities switched course, sparking fear in a country with a relatively low vaccination rate where people had been taught to fear the disease.
Earlier this year, amid mass lockdowns, much of China’s supply chain network was thrown into chaos by requirements for those involved in goods transportation to show negative COVID-19 test results or health codes at check points.
Removing those curbs aims especially at ensuring the smooth supply of medicines and items such as antigen kits, authorities said.
“No efforts should be spared to ensure smooth delivery of medical supplies,” China’s transport ministry said in a notice.
Long queues have formed at pharmacies in many Chinese cities by people looking to buy cough medicines, flu drugs and masks and the state market regulator over the weekend warned against price gouging in anti-COVID products.
The China’s State Administration for Market Regulation published guidelines to regulate the online sale of drugs, masks, antigen testing reagents and food, cautioning internet companies in particular not to “profiteer from the pandemic”.
In another shift, China agreed to let Germany provide BioNTech’s COVID vaccine to German nationals in the country, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday. Beijing had until now insisted on only administering domestically produced vaccines.
China’s abrupt easing has unnerved companies, many of which had been frustrated by the policy but had adapted to the inconveniences.
Sources at two Western carmakers with factories in China told Reuters on Friday they were monitoring the situation on the ground carefully.
One expressed concern the virus would spread quickly as restrictions ease, increasing the likelihood of staff sickness and potentially hurting output.