Covid outbreak in China: Beijing issues first mainland vaccination mandate in the face of Omicron suboption

From July 11, people will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter a wide range of public places in the Chinese capital, including cinemas, libraries, museums, gyms, stadiums and learning centers, a city health official said at a briefing on Wednesday.

The official added that people who are “not eligible” to be vaccinated will be exempt from the requirement, without specifying how they can provide evidence for an exemption.

It also remains unclear how people who have received the vaccine abroad can meet this requirement. China’s health code systems, which are used to confirm vaccinations, currently do not recognize foreign vaccines, and those who have been vaccinated abroad have not been able to register their vaccinations.

Seats with limited capacity or where advance bookings are required should prioritize entry for vaccinated customers.

Seniors visiting places offering activities specifically for seniors, such as recreation centers and playrooms, should be vaccinated as soon as possible, the official said.

The vaccination mandate came after Beijing reported three cases of the BA.5.2 Omicron subvariant, which is easily transmitted and able to elude antibodies. The outbreak of a new sub-variant is already close the northwestern city of Xi’anwhere entertainment, sports and religious venues have been closed and restaurants limited to delivery and takeaway services until next Wednesday.

Vaccination gap in the elderly

China remains an exception due to its ongoing approach to zero Covid, which has seen cities across the country, including Beijing and Shanghai, recently placed in full or partial lockdown. A strategy based on mass testing, quarantines and sudden lockdowns to stem any re-surges of the virus has undermined economic activity.

Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to boost vaccination rates, especially among the elderly population, as Omicron has caused several outbreaks this year.

In Beijing, residents are already required to present proof of a negative Covid test done within 72 hours to enter all public places.

The city also required that people working in epidemic prevention and control, healthcare, public transportation, delivery and other high-risk sectors be fully vaccinated.

As of January, 98% of Beijing’s more than 20 million residents had been fully vaccinated, according to a government statement, including 12 million people who were boosted.

But vaccination rates among older people are lower. As of April, 80% of Beijing residents over 60 had been vaccinated, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Residents line up to have a throat swab taken at a training ground in Beijing on July 4.

On Chinese social media, users were quick to point out that Beijing’s vaccination mandate appears to be in conflict with national health authorities’ guidance that vaccination should be voluntary.

“When did voluntary vaccination become mandatory?” a comment posted on Weibo, a Chinese platform similar to Twitter.

Last September, the National Health Commission said that local governments were improperly imposing restrictions on the movement of unvaccinated people in order to speed up the vaccination campaign, and that such policies should be adjusted in a timely manner.

“Vaccination against Covid-19 should be based on the principles of informed consent and (be) voluntary,” said Wu Liangyu, deputy head of the commission. said at a press conference.

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