What an early departure? China doubles down on zero-Covid pledge as public frustration mounts

Hong Kong

China has reiterated its firm commitment to its long-standing zero-Covid policy, despite growing public frustration that the strict measures are costing the lives it seeks to protect.

Rumors of an early exit from the costly strategy sent Chinese stocks soaring last week, but at a press conference on Saturday, Chinese health officials vowed to stick with the country’s zero-tolerance approach to eradicating Covid cases as soon as they erupt. .

The relentless campaign has kept infections and deaths low at high economic and social cost, as rapidly spreading new variants make the virus nearly impossible to contain.

“Practice has shown that some of our pandemic prevention and control policies and strategic measures are absolutely correct, and are the most economical and effective,” said Hu Xiang, a disease control official, when asked if China would adjust its Covid policies. the term

“We should stick to the principle of putting people and lives first and the broader strategy of preventing imports from external and internal rebounds,” Hu said.

The announcement dealt a heavy blow to hopes of easing restrictions, fueled by unverified social media rumors 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 US rose last week as investors eagerly seized any speculation of a possible relaxation.

The continued commitment to zero-Covid was a huge disappointment to the Chinese public, many of whom have continued with mass testing, centralized quarantine and strict lockdowns, sometimes extending for months.

Public frustration and resentment have only grown in recent weeks, after the start of President Xi Jinping’s rule-breaking third term in power backed by a zero-Covid policy.

Tragic cases perceived to be linked to politics have gained momentum online as people wonder why they should continue.

On Friday, a 55-year-old woman fell to her death from the 12th floor of a gated apartment complex in Hohhot, the northern capital of Inner Mongolia. The compound was closed at the end of October after two cases were reported, with the entrance to its building fenced off by high barricades.

In a widely shared audio message, the woman’s daughter was heard banging against the barricade and crying for help, asking community workers to unblock the barrier so she could get to her mother.

“Open the door! Open the door! I’m begging you, please,” she was heard shouting.

In another video, the daughter was seen kneeling and crying next to her mother, who was motionless on the floor, wearing a face mask.

The desperate scenes sparked a nationwide outcry, with a related hashtag garnering half a billion views on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform. As the municipal police announced in a statement, the woman who lived with her 29-year-old daughter had anxiety disorders.

The woman’s death has added to the growing list of lives lost in the country’s draconian lockdowns. In another tragedy that sparked outrage across the nation, a 3-year-old boy died of gas poisoning in a locked compound in the northwestern city of Lanzhou on Wednesday after Covid restrictions delayed rescue efforts.

Experts warned that China could be hit by a new wave of infections – and a new cycle of government-imposed lockdowns – as winter approaches.

China reported 5,496 local infections by Sunday, hitting a six-month high, according to official data.

More than a third of these infections were reported in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. The city of 19 million is facing its worst outbreak since the pandemic began, with large parts of Haizhu district under lockdown.

At a press conference on Sunday, officials accused some residents of spreading the virus by breaking lockdown rules and removing barriers to going outside to get their daily supplies.

Even where long lockdowns are not in place, ongoing Covid-testing edicts and strict travel restrictions have fueled growing dissent.

In Beijing, authorities have kept strict the requirements to enter the Chinese capital, home to most of China’s top leaders. The restrictions were further tightened in October for the Communist Party Congress, and have not been eased since.

Residents and business travelers have complained about a pop-up window on their Beijing health app that prevents them from returning to the capital despite negative Covid test results.

In a telling measure of public dissent, those who spoke out against the excessive cuts included members of the political elite and nationalist activists. Tao Siliang, the daughter of former Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Tao Zhu, criticized Beijing’s travel restrictions after the open windows prevented her from returning home from a trip to eastern Zhejiang.

“I have long been a calm person, but this time I panicked because I had my first taste of the loss and helplessness of not being able to return to my home,” the 81-year-old wrote. since a social media article was deleted.

The problems of returning to Beijing were too much for Zhou Xiaoping, a nationalist and staunchly anti-American blogger whom Xi singled out in 2014 as a eulogy at a conference on arts and literature. In a series of Weibo posts, he openly questioned travel restrictions and criticized propaganda efforts for increasing Covid deaths abroad.

“What the hell is the point of doing this?” he wrote in a post that was later removed. “The cost of preventing epidemics is not only an economic cost, there are also costs in our lifestyles and lives. Since the people were put first (you swore), you must seek the truths from the truths.’