While China's ruthless Covid-zero strategy has been unrelenting for close to three years, speculation is mounting the decision has been made to ease the stringent measures routinely implemented on millions of residents.
As community anger continues to fester amid yet another flare up in Covid-19 cases, the Chinese Communist Party caused a stir last week when it identified 20 measures to optimise the nation's pandemic response.
These were widely interpreted as a relaxing of the rules, prompting a social media buzz and forcing the Chinese government to quickly stress they had no interest in doing so.
Beijing says the measures will allow health authorities to adopt a more targeted approach, instead of sweeping rules which have left millions locked down despite minimal risk of infection.
Among the changes included are the end of quarantine for secondary contacts, and cutting quarantine times for close contacts of cases and inbound travellers.
Hebei capital Shijiazhuang became one of the first major cities to implement the changes in the face of an outbreak, ending mass testing of residents.
The city quickly began trending on Chinese social media site Weibo and state media moved to dispel speculation the city was not "living with the virus" in a way Western nations have become accustomed to.
"It is by no means “lying flat” or ignoring the situation, nor is it the so-called full relaxation," the Global Times reported on Monday, quoting Zhang Chaochao, the city’s Party Chief.
"It is to further make the prevention and control work more scientific and accurate, resolutely control those that should be controlled, and let go of those that should be, and preventing a one-size-fits-all approach."
'Criminal' pandemic workers' latest concerning video to emerge
Such optimism from residents is in stark contrast to other parts of the country where stringent lockdowns roll on and incidences of brutality plague the government's image.
In the mega city of Guangzhou in southern China, unverified video shows residents taking to the streets at night, defying restrictions. While China has a tight grasp on the internet activity of its citizens, those in the city have taken to using Cantonese slang online to avoid their criticisms being detected by authorities, CNN reported.
A separate video shows residents pulling down barricades installed to enforce lockdowns on residential blocks.
Political scientist Ian Bremmer, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, called the pushback against the CCP as "very rare".
residents of guangzhou reportedly tear down covid barriers & march against covid restrictions
very rare instance of resistance against the ccppic.twitter.com/fnS6NaKLJB
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) November 14, 2022
More than five million people in the city have been placed in lockdown.
Earlier this month seven pandemic workers were arrested for attacking residents in the city of Linyi, with local police condemning the "criminal acts". In video several workers in hamzat suits can be seen dragging residents on the ground while others in black outfits kick them.
In another unverified video believed to be from the city of Hohhot, pandemic workers can be seen pulling the hair of a man in a dispute at what is believed to be his home.
Taylor Loeb, a senior analyst at the consultancy Trivium China, told Time he believes China may have to walk back on its Covid-zero strategy within a year if resentment of the measures reaches an untenable level.
However he does not believe a considerable easing will occur now, with Guangzhou's plight the latest evidence China is committed to the strategy.
Mr Loeb said rumours of a reopening were fuelled by a lack of reliable Western sources still in China and wishful economical thinking.
“The desire for a positive catalyst mixed with a shaky information ecosystem creates the perfect environment for rumours to spread,” he said.
And while anger grows in China, there is still many who fear the virus's impact with eased restrictions.
Some families in Shijiazhuang expressed concern about exposing their children to the virus at school, giving excuses such as toothaches or earaches for their children's absence, according to social media posts following a state media report that testing in the city would end.
Nationwide, 16,072 new locally transmitted cases were reported by the National Health Commission, up from 14,761, on Sunday and the most in China since April 25, when Shanghai was battling an outbreak that locked down the city for two months.
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