China will now allow people with asymptomatic COVID-19 or mild symptoms to quarantine at home in another relaxation of its rules.
Most COVID cases are asymptomatic infections and mild cases, with no special treatment required, the National Health Commission announced.
Previously, people who tested positive for the virus had to isolate in overcrowded and unsanitary field hospitals.
It is the biggest sign yet that China is preparing its people to live with the disease.
“Asymptomatic persons and mild cases can be isolated at home while strengthening health monitoring, and they can transfer to designated hospitals for treatment in a timely manner if their condition worsens,” the NHC said.
Earlier this year, whole communities were locked down – sometimes for weeks – after even just one positive case was identified.
Less strict rules last month meant only affected buildings were locked down.
The NHC said high-risk areas should be defined by building, unit, floor and household and must not be arbitrarily expanded to entire residential compounds and communities.
The health authority called on local authorities to “resolutely rectify simplified, one-size-fits-all, and adding extra measures” for COVID prevention and to reject and overcome “formalism and bureaucracy”.
Schools which have not seen an outbreak must return to in-person teaching, the announcement said.
For almost three years, China has had some of the most restrictive COVID-19 rules in the world under its “zero COVID” policy, managing the virus as a disease on par with bubonic plague and cholera.
But since last week, top officials have acknowledged the reduced ability of the new coronavirus to cause disease, while Chinese experts have suggested it is not more deadly than seasonal influenza.
Yesterday, people in the capital Beijing were allowed to enter parks, supermarkets and offices without showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test in another relaxation of the rules.
People no longer need a negative COVID test to ride the subway or enter either of the city’s airports. However there was no suggestion of changes to rules requiring passengers to show negative tests prior to boarding.
Last month saw intense anti-lockdown protests representing the biggest show of public discontent on the mainland since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
While the protests petered out in days amid a heavy police response, cities and regions around the country began easing measures in a piecemeal way ahead of today’s announcement.