China To End Travel Tracing Norms

China is set to drop its travel tracing requirement as part of an uncertain exit from the strict “zero-Covid” policies that have seen widespread dissatisfaction. China on Monday said that it would retire an app that is used to track Covid-19 contacts. The state-run “Communications Itinerary Card”, which tracks whether someone has been to a high-risk area based on their phone signal, will go offline at midnight Tuesday, news agency AFP reported citing an official WeChat post. It will go offline after two years of operation.

The “Itinerary Card” was at the core of China’s zero-Covid policy. The millions of people in the country are required to key in their phone numbers to produce their signature green arrow to travel between provinces or enter events. The decision to shut down the app came just a few days after China announced an end to large-scale lockdowns, mandatory quarantine in central facilities, and relaxation of testing measures, effectively throwing in the towel on its zero-Covid strategy.

China’s ruling Communist Party has not granted permission to any independent parties to conduct verification and such apps have been used in past to suppress travel and free speech.

Last month, the protests in Beijing and several other cities, over the restrictions led to a demand for leader Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party to step down. However, the relaxation has also sparked concerns about a new wave of infections potentially overwhelming healthcare resources in some areas.

The leaders in China had long praised the “zero-COVID” policy for keeping the number of cases and deaths much lower as compared to other countries. but health officials are now saying the most prevalent omicron variety poses much less of a risk. As the amount of testing drops sharply, China on Monday announced only around 8,500 new Covid cases have been registered, bringing the nation’s total to 365,312.

China saw some of its fiercest protests against stringent Covid curbs in the country. The protests erupted on November 25 after 10 people died in a fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi. Many believed COVID-19 restrictions may have impeded rescue efforts. However, the authorities have denied the claims spread online, but demonstrators gave voice to longstanding frustration in cities such as Shanghai that have seen severe lockdowns.

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