China’s President Xi Jinping suggested in talks with EU chief Charles Michel that the spread of the less lethal Omicron strain of Covid-19 may allow Beijing to ease lockdown rules, European officials said Friday.

Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping officiates in Hong Kong on July 1, 2022. File Photo: GovHK.

Michel met the Chinese leader in Beijing on Thursday. According to an account of the meeting from a senior European official, Xi told Michel that Chinese “people were frustrated” after three years of the coronavirus epidemic.

Anger and frustration with China’s hardline pandemic response spilled onto the streets last weekend in widespread demonstrations not seen in decades, but a number of cities have now begun loosening the most onerous rules such as daily mass testing.

According to the European officials, Michel suggested to Xi that China follow the example of Europe and favour vaccination drives rather than lockdowns to control the spread of the disease.

Xi, they said, told Michel that “now Covid in China is mainly Omicron, and Delta was much more lethal before and Omicron less lethal, which opens the way for more openness of the restrictions than what we have already seen in some regions.”

The Omicron strain of Covid-19 is now the dominant strain of the virus worldwide, but has proved less deadly.

European Union Commission Flag Headquarters Brussels
European Union Flags in Brussels. Photo: Wiktor Dabkowski, via Flickr.

Michel, the president of the European Council, asked Xi about the restrictions and the protests and Xi complained “that after three years of Covid that he had an issue because people were frustrated”.

“It was mainly students or teenagers in university. That’s the explanation that was given,” one senior European official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

A second European official said: “As the president explained to President Xi, in Europe we’d initially in the first phase of dealing with Covid focused very much on isolation, quarantine and testing, but over a period of time that has evolved in particular to a very large focus on vaccination. 

“My sense was that this was something that was informative. Perhaps I had a feeling that China would be… increasingly looking to encourage, incentivise its citizens to be vaccinated. Also, perhaps to follow a tiny bit the European experience.”

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