Anger spilled onto the streets earlier this week as soaring caseloads in recent months saw authorities intensify measures to control the outbreak.
Protesters took to the streets and universities across China in unprecedented demonstrations.
“The reliasation is that the public can only get used to so many restrictions before there’s some pushback. So there should be a little bit more softening, and although not equivalent to opening up, basically easing of restrictions, easing of the testing…” Prof Nicholls said.
ELDERLIES RELUCTANT TO GET VACCINATED
A day before announcing its new stance, China called for a stronger push to vaccinate its older population, but stopped short of introducing a mandate.
Official figures showed that 68.7 per cent of those aged 60 and above have taken three shots, but the rate fell to 40.4 per cent for those 80 and above, according to Hong Kong-based newspaper The South China Morning Post.
Prof Nicholls said that Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID-19 efforts, has been handed a “poisoned chalice” to try and improve vaccination rates in the elderly.
“I do have sympathy for her, if she’s been mandated to increase the vaccination rate in the elderly. How is that actually going to happen?” he asked.
Prof Nicholls cited his own experience in Hong Kong, where the city’s government “tried all sorts of sticks and carrots” to coax the elderly into receiving vaccinations, but to no avail.
“With Omicron in March, we thought that the elderly would be flocking to get vaccinated but it didn’t happen. They’ll say it’s not safe, we don’t need it. So I think that big sticking point of vaccination in the elderly is going to be a difficult one,” he said.
Without a vaccine mandate, there will be a sizable proportion of the elderly who will be adamant to continue being vaccine-free, Mr Nicholls said.
However, vaccine mandates will be difficult to introduce. Previous attempts by city governments to mandate vaccine passes on public transports and public spaces were scrapped after being met with backlash.
When asked if the easing of restrictions meant that China might open up soon, Prof Nicholls said: “It’s a big country with so many factors involved – health, economic, political factors … We cannot second guess what’s going to happen with China.”