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Beijing imposes, and then backs off new COVID-19 vaccine mandate as China grapples with new outbreaks

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An inside look at China's vast COVID testing system
Here's what a day under China's vast COVID testing system looks like 02:06

Beijing — Two of China's biggest cities, capital Beijing and Shanghai, got to enjoy about one month of reprieve from draconian COVID-19 restrictions, including full and partial lockdowns, after officials declared victory over the virus. But both megacities were racing once again on Friday to contain outbreaks fueled by highly transmissible Omicron subvariants of the virus.

The capital reported a cluster of BA.5.2 subvariant cases, which officials said started among staff at a boutique hotel near Beijing's world-famous Great Wall area. Only about a dozen infections were confirmed over the course of the week, but local government officials appeared keen to take no chances.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Beijing authorities issued a requirement for all residents entering large public places, including museums, theaters, and gyms, to show proof of vaccination, according to an official with the Municipal Health Commission. Senior citizens were also told they must show proof of vaccination to enter community facilities.

China rejects World Health Organization's criticism of "zero-COVID" strategy 03:13

But on Friday, the Beijing government seemed to be walking back the vaccine mandate it announced only two days earlier. In an interview with official state media, a local health authority said people could still enter public venues as long as they could show a negative COVID-19 test result from within 72 hours, and their body temperatures were normal. 

No further detail or explanation of the apparent change in the rules was given, but the brief vaccine mandate in the capital appeared to clash with China's national policy, which encourages but does not require vaccination. About 89% of China's adult population is considered fully vaccinated.

The brief vaccine mandate came on top of existing policies that require everyone to show a recent negative COVID test result to enter any public venue. That restriction effectively forces the entire population of the capital to get rolling PCR tests every three days.

China imposes strict COVID protocols in Beijing 02:05

Keeping a lid on the highly contagious subvariant is a priority for China's ruling Communist Party in part because it wants to avoid any disruption to the once-in-a-decade power transition, which is set to take place in Beijing this fall, though an exact date has not yet been announced.

Meanwhile, in the financial capital of Shanghai, at least 74 positive cases had been recorded by Friday, linked to a karaoke bar in the city's Putuo district. In response, city officials shut down all karaoke bars in Shanghai — and there are a lot — from Wednesday.

Shanghai has also intensified its mass-testing regime. Residents in 12 of the city's 16 districts were told to get two PCR tests over a three-day period that ended on Thursday.

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