Zero-Covid China: Guangzhou residents ‘revolt’ over oppressive lockdowns

Hong Kong

Residents under a Covid lockdown in China’s southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou have thrown down fences to confine them to their homes, venturing out into the streets in defiance of strictly enforced local orders, according to videos and images circulating on social media.

Some of the images show large crowds climbing over fallen fences and filling the streets after dark in the city’s Haizhu district, which has been under an increasingly restrictive lockdown since November 5, the city’s ongoing Covid epicenter.

The sound of falling metal fences echoes through the neighborhood and is mixed with animations in the footage, scenes that many social media users say took place on the streets of the neighborhood late Monday night.

In one video, Covid workers can be seen standing to the side as barriers fall, trying to talk to people on the street. “They are revolting”, a woman’s voice is heard in the background of one of the videos. CNN has geolocated the footage to the Haizhu district, but could not independently confirm it.

It is not clear how many people participated in the protest, nor how long it lasted. Censors lightly removed related posts from the Chinese Internet.

When CNN reached the phone line of the Haizhu District government office, a phone operator said the area was still “largely closed off.”

When asked if there had been any protests in recent days, the operator did not want to answer.

The public protest – an extremely rare event in China, where the authorities have tight control over dissent – appears as another sign of public anger and frustration with the government’s strict zero-Covid policies.

The scene in Guangzhou, which on Tuesday reported more than 5,100 new cases of Covid (most asymptomatic), faces questions about the sustainability of Beijing’s ongoing push to stamp out the spread of the virus amid rapidly spreading new variants.

China is experiencing a nationwide surge in infections, this time driven by simultaneous outbreaks in several cities, where containment measures are stretching residents and local authorities to the brink.

On Tuesday, China’s National Health Commission reported more than 17,772 new cases of Covid across the country, the highest total since April 2021, with Guangzhou, a city of 19 million, accounting for more than a quarter of them.

Last week, the city placed three districts, including Haizhu, under lockdown in a bid to stop the spread, imposing numerous restrictions on residents’ movements and business activity. This was followed in recent days by additional measures in neighborhoods designated as “high risk”.

Zhang Yi, deputy director of Guangzhou’s municipal health commission, told a press conference on Monday that “pandemic containment measures” will be “improved” – a veiled reference to lockdowns – across Liwan and Panyu districts, as well as parts of Haizhu. and Yuexiu districts.

The rise in the number of cases and the accompanying controls have prompted more Chinese residents to question the costs of the brute-force measures authorities have used to stamp out cases, including mandatory quarantine of close contacts of Covid patients, mass testing and in-person lockdowns. confined to their neighborhoods, neighborhoods or apartments, sometimes for months at a time.

Senior officials in Beijing, including Chinese leader Xi Jinping, have pledged that the measures must be balanced with economic and social interests. Last week authorities revised the policy, recommending unnecessary mass testing and overzealous classifications of restricted “high-risk” areas.

Quarantine of secondary close contacts was also largely scrapped and the time close contacts must spend in central quarantine was reduced – not all changes, officials say, are a relaxation of the policy, but an improvement.

The moves came as Xi prepared for a week of diplomacy to attend Southeast Asian summits in a sign that China was ready to return to the world stage, where Xi met in person with top Western leaders this month for the first time since the pandemic began.

But for citizens returning home trapped in the lockdown, repeated problems, such as getting quick medical attention or enough food and supplies, or losing jobs and income, have brought repeated hardship and tragedy, linked to what they believe are many deaths. they are delaying access to medical care.

In Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, where footage showed the nightly protests, many migrant workers live in crammed buildings in areas known as “urban villages”.

Their circumstances can exacerbate the difficulties of repressive measures, with the actual number of residents in need of supplies in a given block of flats being unclear to officials delivering the goods. There is also no possibility of telecommuting to preserve the income of those who work in factories and construction sites.

In messages shared on social media, observers said residents of Haizhu outside Guangzhou could be heard calling for help from officials, such as compensation for rent and free supplies.

In a video circulating on social media, a man can be heard shouting “We Hubei people want to eat! Hubei people want to stamp!” Referring to another Chinese province, where many of the district’s migrant workers come from. He is part of a crowd gathered in front of a Covid worker, wearing hazmat suits.

In another clip of the same scene, another man asks the workers: “If your parents got sick, how would you feel? If your children had a fever and were prevented from going out (to the hospital), how would you feel?”

In another video, people can be heard shouting their frustrations and disappointment to a man who identifies himself as the district manager and says he wants to address their concerns. A resident goes ahead to say that because they are non-local residents, they stand in line for hours for Covid-19 tests and the meat sold to them by the government has gone bad, while they cannot access local support services.

“No one has come to explain and the community office line is always busy. And our landlord doesn’t care if we live or die. What should we do?” says the neighbor, while the other members of the crowd start shouting together: “Unseal! Unseal!”

At a city press conference on Monday, a Haizhu district official acknowledged criticism that the restrictions could have been announced earlier and with more clarity in areas affected by the measures.

“We have also realized many of our shortcomings,” said Su Mingqing, deputy head of Haizhu district.