China’s media, once dominated by doom-and-gloom coverage about the virus’ dangers and scenes of pandemic chaos overseas, has changed dramatically as it attempts to move away from zero Covid.

Beijing, long a stronghold of a hardline strategy consisting of mass lockdowns with forced quarantine in centralised facilities and massive testing for millions, is now dialing back the curbs following nationwide protests calling on Beijing to end lockdowns.

This policy shift was accompanied by rapid changes to pandemic messaging in both official statements and state media. These messages now downplay the risk of the virus and accuse local officials of over-zealous Covid lockdown implementation.

Chong Yutian, Guangzhou-based medicine professor, said that Omicron is not the same as last year’s Delta strain in an article published by China Youth Daily.

He stated that most people will not experience any symptoms after infection with the Omicron variation. However, very few will suffer severe symptoms.

According to a Beijing Youth Daily story, Covid patients told readers that they were not too afraid, but that they also needed to take precautions.

People’s Daily published a Friday analysis that cited health professionals as supporting local government moves to allow patients in quarantine to their home. This would be a departure from current regulations.

Willy Lam, a Hong Kong-based Chinese politician and expert on Chinese politics, told AFP that it was a type of propaganda to prepare the people for more relaxation.

– ‘There will also be punishment’ –

Experts claim Beijing is creating the conditions for a loosening Covid rules, as well as convenient scapegoats to take responsibility for excessive restrictions.

The nation’s top virus response organization has already expressed concern about overzealous local officials, asking in a Q&A with People’s Daily that they be held “strictly responsible”.

Lam said to AFP, “There will be punishment for a lot of the local officials.”

Authorities announced Saturday that a Hunan sub-district security agent was fired from the Communist Party after he assaulted a Hunan resident in a lockdown-related dispute.

Also, covid-testing firms are emerging as scapegoats. Recently, state media exposed alleged violations by testing companies.

Jing Zhao, a Chinese political blogger and tweeter under the pen name Michael Anti wrote: “Nucleic Acid companies will be first to be sacrificed government,”

“Catching the bosses in these companies can solve 2 problems: people trying to find scapegoats and the fact that (abandoning nucleic acid testing and switching to less sensitive Antigen Tests is more in line Omicron’s Rules and can reduce some pressure for pandemic control,” he stated.

The Chinese state propaganda apparatus has begun to use pivots away of the zero-Covid program as evidence that the Chinese government cares about its people.

The country’s local governments announced earlier this week they won’t require all citizens to take part in mass-testing campaigns. They will allow groups, including elderly people, to skip the testing. Although it is a small step back from current policy, the announcement was repeated in state media headlines.

The news agency Xinhua described the changes as “proof that the government responds to the people’s demands”.

The Chinese Communist Party acknowledged that the zero Covid policy had put on the line a fundamental pillar of it legitimacy: its promise of providing a basic living standard to citizens,” Diana Fu, associate professor of politics at the University of Toronto told AFP.

She explained that Covid’s softening was part of the party’s traditional strategy of responding “through a combination o carrots and sticks”.

“While the security apparatus has been busy repressing protestors in the streets, local governments have made concessions regarding Covid restrictions that will allow the pressure valve’s release.

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