China has reiterated its unwavering commitment to its longstanding zero Covid policy, despite growing public frustration the strict measures are costing the very lives they are meant to protect.
Unfounded rumors of an exit from the costly strategy had sent Chinese stocks soaring last week, but at a press conference on Saturday, Chinese health officials vowed to continue the zero-tolerance approach of the country that aims to eliminate Covid cases as soon as they break out.
The relentless campaign has kept infections and deaths low, at a high economic and social cost, as new, fast-spreading variants make containing the virus nearly impossible.
“Practice has proven that our pandemic prevention and control policy and a series of strategic measures are absolutely correct, and the most economical and effective,” said Hu Xiang, a disease control official, when asked if China will adjust its Covid policies in the near future. term.
“We should adhere to the principle of putting people and lives first, and the broader strategy of preventing imports from outside and internal rebounds,” Hu said.
The announcement dealt a blow to hopes for an easing of restrictions, fueled by unverified rumors on social media that China was forming a high-level committee to move away from zero-Covid. Share prices of Chinese companies listed in mainland China, Hong Kong and the United States surged last week as investors rushed to seize on any speculation for a possible easing.
The commitment to stick to zero-Covid has also been a big disappointment for the Chinese public, many of whom are growing tired of relentless mass testing, centralized quarantine and strict lockdowns – which sometimes last for decades. month.
Public frustration and resentment have only grown in recent weeks, after leader Xi Jinping began his third term in power in a break from the norm with a resounding endorsement of his zero-Covid policy.
Tragic cases perceived to be linked to politics have surged online as people question why it should continue.
On Friday, a 55-year-old woman died from the 12th floor of a locked apartment complex in Hohhot, capital of the northern region of Inner Mongolia. The complex was closed in late October after two cases were reported, with the entrance to its building fenced off with high barricades.
In a widely shared audio message, the woman’s daughter was heard banging on the barricade and screaming desperately for help, pleading with community workers to unlock the barrier so she could rush to her mother.
“Open the door! Open the door! I’m begging you, please,” she heard shouting.
In another video, the girl was seen kneeling and crying next to her mother, who was lying motionless on the ground, still wearing a face mask.
The desperate scenes sparked a national outcry, with a related hashtag racking up half a billion views on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform. Local police said in a statement that the woman, who lived with her 29-year-old daughter, suffered from an anxiety disorder.
The woman’s death added to a growing list of lives lost during the country’s draconian lockdowns. In another tragedy that has sparked national outrage, a 3-year-old boy died of gas poisoning at a locked compound in the northwest city of Lanzhou on Wednesday after Covid restrictions took hold. delayed rescue efforts.
Experts have warned that China could be hit with a new wave of infections – and a new round of government-imposed lockdowns – as winter approaches.
China reported 5,496 local infections on Sunday, hitting a six-month high, according to official data.
More than a third of these infections have been reported in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. The city of 19 million is grappling with its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, with large swathes of its Haizhu district brought under lockdown.
At a press conference on Sunday, officials accused some residents of spreading the virus by breaking lockdown rules and removing barriers to getting out for daily supplies.
Even in places not subject to prolonged closures, constant Covid testing edicts and strict travel restrictions have fueled growing discontent.
In Beijing, authorities have maintained strict requirements to enter the Chinese capital – home to most of China’s top leadership. The restrictions were further tightened ahead of the Communist Party Congress in October, and they have not been eased since.
Residents and business travelers have complained about their Beijing health app pop-up preventing them from returning to the capital, despite their negative Covid test results.
In a telltale sign of the scale of public discontent, among those who spoke out against the excessive restrictions were members of the political elite and nationalist influencers. Tao Siliang, the daughter of Tao Zhu, a former member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Supreme Standing Committee, criticized Beijing’s travel restrictions after being prevented by the pop-up window from returning home after a trip to the eastern province of Beijing. Zhejiang.
“I have long been a calm person, but this time I panicked as I had the first taste of the feeling of loss and helplessness of not being able to return home,” the 81-year-old wrote. in a since-deleted social media post.
The troubles of returning to Beijing still proved too much for Zhou Xiaoping, a fiercely nationalist and anti-American blogger who was hailed by Xi at a conference on art and literature in 2014. In a series of posts on Weibo, he openly questioned sweeping travel restrictions and criticized propaganda efforts exaggerating Covid deaths overseas.
“What the hell is the sense of doing that?” he wrote in a post that was later deleted. “The cost of epidemic prevention is not just the economic cost, there are also costs to our livelihoods and our lives. Since (you have sworn to) put people first, you must seek truths from facts.
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