China’s Communist Party has appointed a public health expert to take up its top municipal job in Beijing, just as the world’s second-biggest economy starts to ease Covid restrictions in place for more than two years. Yin Li, 60, one of the 24 members of the Politburo, was previously party secretary of Fujian province and has been replaced by Zhou Zuyi, a 57-year-old geophysicist, according to state news agency Xinhua. The appointments announced on Sunday reflect a shift towards technocrats in the top ranks of the party, with experience in science and technology becoming more common among cadres in senior posts as the country tries to counter pressure from the West. Apart from his time in Fujian, Yin also served as the governor of Sichuan province, and studied public health in Russia and the United States. His experience in public health is expected to be a major asset in his Beijing assignment, with the city registering 170 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, a record high since the start of the pandemic. The capital is the heart of the nation’s key political units and has become one of the hardest cities to enter for domestic travellers. Its stringent entry requirements for domestic travellers include mobile pop-up windows that can prevent people who have visited “high-risk areas” from buying plane or train tickets back to Beijing, causing widespread discontent. However, the country has signalled that it could be starting to move away from its rigid Covid controls, with an easing in some restrictions. Zhou, meanwhile, is the former minister of human resources and social security, and takes on the Fujian post after only five months at the ministry. Fujian remains a key power base for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has seen a number of core confidants rise to national roles after stints in the southeastern province across the strait from Taiwan. The province is the front line of Beijing’s effort to attract Taiwanese businesses, and local officials have repeatedly vowed to build Fujian into “the first landing point” for investment from across the Taiwan Strait. The strait is 130km (81 miles) at its narrowest and the mainland city of Xiamen in Fujian is only 2km from the Taiwanese-controlled island of Quemoy, also known as Kinmen. The province was also the launch pad for most of the mainland’s unprecedented military drills in the summer, held in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in August. According to People’s Daily, Zhou was made a professor at Tongji University’s school of ocean and earth sciences at the age of 27 and a full professor two years later in 1994. He took on numerous leadership roles at the university and rose through the party’s organisation department ranks in Shanghai and at the central level. He became deputy director of the Central Organisation Department in 2016 and took on an additional role as the chief of the Central Institutional Organisation Commission to oversee public sector reform in 2019. Colleagues described him as someone with a wealth of leadership experience who was “thorough, detailed, fair and humble”, the People’s Daily report said. Yin and Zhou’s appointments are part of a series expected to take place in the wake of last month’s party congress . Other people who could soon gain promotion include Tianjin party boss Li Hongzhong, Chongqing party chief Chen Miner, Yuan Jiajun in Zhejiang and Zhang Guoqing in Liaoning.