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Coronavirus Update: Chinese cities announce further easing of COVID curbs, though police are still patrolling streets to stop protests

Major Chinese cities on Thursday announced a further easing of COVID restrictions, as police continued to patrol streets to avert protests and the ruling Communist Party prepared for the funeral of late leader Jiang Zemin.

Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities announced they were easing testing requirements and controls on movement, as the Associated Press reported. In some areas, markets and bus service has reopened.

In Beijing, officials will let those infected patients who are at low risk to quarantine at home for a week, rather than in a government center, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed sources.

 China has required anyone with any degree of COVID to stay at those sites to cut transmission. The first signs of the shift have been seen in the heavily populated Chaoyang district, home to foreign embassies and offices.

Read now: Protests against strict COVID-zero policy are sweeping China but there is no sign yet of a national political movement

Beijing is hoping to avoid more protests, while resources are also getting thin, those sources said. However, anyone wanting to isolate at home will have to provide a written guarantee to stay at home, with a magnetized alarm fitted on their door that will alert authorized if they try to leave, one source said. Bloomberg was unable to confirm the reports with officials from Beijing or its health department.

Large protests erupted across China as crowds voiced their frustration at nearly three years of Covid-19 controls. Here’s how a deadly fire in Xinjiang sparked domestic upheaval and a political dilemma for Xi Jinping’s leadership. Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters

The World Health Organization’s weekly update shows the global tally of cases was flat in the week through Nov. 27 from the week earlier. The number of fatalities fell by 5% from the previous week.

Japan again led the world by new cases, with an 18% increase to 698,772. It was followed by South Korea, where cases rose 4% to 378,751 and the U.S., where they rose 8% to 296,882.

Omicron and its many subvariants and sublineages remained dominant in the period from Oct. 28 to Nov. 28, accounting for 99.9% of sequences reported to a central database. The BA.5 omicron subvariant and its sublineages were dominant in the week through Nov. 13 at 73.% of all sequences, and newer strains, including BQ. 1 and XBB continued to spread in November, the agency said.

In the U.S., known cases of COVID are rising again with the daily average standing at 45,219 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 15% from two weeks ago. Cases are now rising in 37 states from two weeks ago, as well as in Guam and Washington, D.C., led by Georgia, where they are up 60%, and California, where they have climbed 57%.

The daily average for hospitalizations was up 16% at 32,445, but again, the pace of the increase is not uniform across the country. Louisiana has the highest increase in hospitalizations at 99% from two weeks ago, followed by California, where they are up 62%.

The daily average for deaths is down 7% at 262.

Physicians are reporting high numbers of respiratory illnesses like RSV and the flu earlier than the typical winter peak. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains what the early surge means for the coming winter months. Photo illustration: Kaitlyn Wang

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Nineteen people, including 17 New York City and New York state public employees, were charged in a federal complaint unsealed Wednesday with submitting fraudulent applications for funds intended to help small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic, the AP reported. The accused, including employees of New York City’s police department, correction department and public school system, listed themselves as owners of businesses that in some cases did not exist in their applications for funds through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and Paycheck Protection Program, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said. The defendants collectively stole more than $1.5 million from the SBA and financial institutions that issued SBA-guaranteed loans, prosecutors said.

• The number of people in Europe with undiagnosed HIV has risen as testing rates fell during the pandemic, threatening a global goal of ending the disease by 2030, Reuters reported, citing a report from the WHO and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The report found that in 2021 a quarter fewer HIV diagnoses were recorded compared to pre-pandemic levels in the WHO’s European region.

• Republican Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that West Virginia’s state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic will end at the start of the new year, the AP reported. The state of emergency has been in effect since March 16, 2020. It allows the governor to suspend certain rules on personnel and purchasing. “The truth is, the state of emergency doesn’t affect a whole lot, you know, anymore,” he said. “We absolutely declared an emergency at a time that we had an emergency. … Now, we need to move on.”

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 643.4 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose above 6.63 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 98.8 million cases and 1,080,444 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 228.4 million people living in the U.S., equal to 68.8% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 37.6 million Americans have had the updated COVID booster that targets the original virus and the omicron variants, equal to 12.1% of the overall population.

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