China capital Beijing mandates COVID vaccinations, relaxes curbs on local travelers

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China’s capital on Wednesday mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for most people to enter crowded venues such as libraries, cinemas and gyms, the first such move by Beijing which it coupled with a slight easing of domestic travel curbs.

From July 11, people wanting to enter certain public would need to be vaccinated unless they have issues that render them unsuitable for shots, a city official told a news briefing. Restaurants and public transportation are exempt from the rule.

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China as a whole has already required higher risk employees, such as those working in the public transport sector and cold-chain industry, to be vaccinated, though refrained from blanket mandates on the general public and stressed vaccination is voluntary.

Beijing city had fully inoculated 97.7 percent of its adult population as of last September. It is now urging residents to get booster shots and trying to persuade the elderly, a group with lower vaccination rates than younger adults, to be jabbed.

As of April 17, 80.6 percent of those aged 60 and above in Beijing had received their first dose.

Elderly people who visit certain venues offering activities specifically for senior citizens should be vaccinated as soon as possible, said city health official Li Ang.

“It’s a slap on your own face,” wrote a user on Twitter-like Chinese platform Weibo, alluding to the contradiction between Beijing’s rules and the national health authority’s pledge last year that there would be no curbs on movement by unvaccinated people.

Hu Xijin, a prolific Chinese commentator and former editor in chief of the state-backed Global Times, said he hoped there could be a proper “grace period” for such impactful rules, though adding that the rule had a scientific basis.

Officials should take into consideration how to address the hesitancy among some groups, such as those who are preparing to have children and are worried that vaccination might affect the health of babies, Hu said.

Beijing has yet to specify details of the new mandate, such as whether it will just require an initial dose or a full vaccination or even booster, and whether it will recognize foreign vaccines such as those from Pfizer and Moderna that remain unapproved in China.

Beijing city reported three new local COVID cases on Wednesday as of 3:00 p.m., all of whom were already isolated for medical observation, following a total of nine infections earlier this month.

The capital also finetuned its stringent rules on domestic travel. It would now “strictly restrict” entry by people who, within seven days, have travelled in towns that have recently reported one local infection or more, compared with 14 days earlier.

It also said on Wednesday that restrictions on entry by travelers from domestic areas near China’s international borders will be scrapped.

Direct international flights to Beijing will be resumed in an orderly way, the city said, without giving a timeline.

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