Several cities in China on Sunday eased some COVID restrictions, following the capital Beijing's lead a day earlier after a wave of public anger about the country's draconian handling of the pandemic.
Several days of protests in numerous cities appear to have forced the government's hand.
However, Beijing insists the zero-COVID policy, which requires strict lockdowns, testing and quarantine rules, will remain in place.
What is changing about China's COVID curbs?
Beijing is now allowing those who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine at home rather than at isolation centers.
Authorities in the capital on Saturday, canceled the testing requirement to ride public transport, alongside the cities of Tianjin, Shenzhen and Chengdu.
Beijing is no longer restricting sales of cough and sore throat medicines, which were imposed because people were using the medication to hide COVID infections.
DW's correspondent Fabian Kretschmer said there were definitely small steps towards easing up of COVID measures in the Chinese capital.
"Public life is resuming again. You see testing booths closed and a lot of gates [of public buildings] that were closed during the whole pandemic are opening up again," Kretschmer said.
He added that many residents were still anxious about when the zero-COVID policy will be relaxed.
Elsewhere in China, people in Shanghai and Nanning, the capital of the southern region of Guangxi, no longer have to show a negative COVID test to take public transport and visit parks.
Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern Xinjiang region, where protests against the zero-COVID policy first erupted last month, will reopen malls, markets, restaurants and other venues from Monday.
The city has enforced strict lockdowns lasting more than three months.
China will still impose mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers.
The Chinese government says the zero-COVID policy is still in place and it will continue to isolate every infected person from the rest of the population.
What is the latest COVID situation?
On Sunday, China announced another 35,775 cases from the past 24 hours, 31,607 of which were asymptomatic, bringing its total to 336,165 with 5,235 deaths.
Authorities also reported two new COVID deaths, one each in the provinces of Shandong and Sichuan.
Concerns about vaccination rates are believed to figure prominently in the ruling Communist Party's determination to stick to its hard-line strategy.
While nine in 10 Chinese have been vaccinated, only 66% of people over 80 have gotten one shot while 40% have received a booster, according to the commission. It said 86% of people over 60 are vaccinated.
China has not approved any foreign COVID vaccines, opting for those produced domestically, which some studies have suggested are not as effective as some foreign ones.
That means easing virus prevention measures could come with big risks, according to experts.
As relatively few Chinese have built up antibodies by being exposed to the virus, some fear millions could die if restrictions were lifted entirely.
No to Western vaccines
A senior US official said Saturday that Chinese President Xi Jinping is still unwilling to accept Western vaccines despite the challenges the country is facing with the virus.
Xi "is unwilling to take a better vaccine from the West, and is instead relying on a vaccine in China that's just not nearly as effective against omicron," Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence said
"Seeing protests and the response to it is countering the narrative that he likes to put forward, which is that China is so much more effective at government," she told the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
mm/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)