The giant Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing have announced an easing of COVID-19 curbs, a day after demonstrators in southern Guangzhou clashed with police amid a string of protests against the world's toughest coronavirus restrictions.
The demonstrations, which spread over the weekend to Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere, have become a show of public defiance unprecedented since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
The southwestern city of Chongqing will allow close contacts of people with COVID-19, who fulfil certain conditions, to quarantine at home, a city official said.
Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, also announced an easing of curbs, but with record numbers of cases nationwide there seems little prospect of a major U-turn in "zero-COVID" policy that Xi has said is saving lives and has proclaimed as one of his political achievements.
Announcing the lifting of lockdowns in parts of Guangzhou, a city hard-hit by the recent wave of infections, authorities did not mention the protests, and the district where Tuesday's violence flared remained under tight control.
In one video of those clashes posted on Twitter, dozens of riot police clad in white protective suits and holding shields over their heads, advanced in formation over what appeared to be torn down lockdown barriers as objects flew at them.
Police were later seen escorting away a row of people in handcuffs.
Another video clip showed people throwing objects at police, while a third showed a tear gas canister landing in a small crowd on a narrow street, sending people running to escape the fumes.
China Dissent Monitor, run by US government-funded Freedom House, estimated at least 27 demonstrations took place across China from Saturday to Monday. Australia's ASPI think tank estimated 43 protests in 22 cities.
As well as the easing of curbs in Guangzhou and Chongqing, officials in Zhengzhou, the site of a big Foxconn factory making Apple iPhones that has been the scene of worker unrest over COVID-19, announced the "orderly" resumption of businesses, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.
Earlier, national health officials said China would respond to "urgent concerns" raised by the public and that COVID-19 rules should be implemented more flexibly, according to a region's conditions.
But while the easing of some measures appears to be an attempt to appease the public, authorities have also begun to seek out those who have been at the protests.
In a statement that did not refer to the protests, the Communist Party's top body in charge of law enforcement agencies said on Tuesday that China would crack down on "the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces".
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also said "illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order" would not be tolerated.
China reported 36,061 new COVID-19 infections for Wednesday, the National Health Commission said, compared with 37,828 new cases for Tuesday.
Australian Associated Press
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