BEIJING (AP) — China’s capital, Beijing, has closed city parks and imposed other restrictions as the country faces a new wave of COVID-19 cases.
Elsewhere, more than 5 million people were confined to the south on Friday Guangzhou manufacturing center and the western megacity Chongqing.
On Friday, the country reported 10,729 new cases, almost all of whom tested positive without showing symptoms.
While the bulk of Beijing’s 21 million people undergo near-daily testing, an additional 118 new cases have been recorded in the sprawling city. Many schools in the city have switched to online classes, hospitals have restricted services and some shops and restaurants have been closed, with their staff quarantined. Videos on social media showed people in some areas protest or fight with the police and health workers.
Chinese leaders pledged on Thursday to respond to public frustration over its harsh ‘zero-COVID’ strategy which has confined millions of people to their homes and severely disrupted the economy.
No details were offered other than a promise to release “stranded people” who have been quarantined or prevented for weeks from leaving cities where there are cases.
‘Zero-COVID’ has kept China’s infection rate relatively low, but is weighing on the economy and disrupting life by closing schools, factories and shops, or sealing off neighborhoods without warning . With the new surge in cases, a growing number of regions are closing businesses and imposing restrictions on movement. To enter office buildings, shopping malls and other public places, people must show a negative result of a virus test taken up to once a day.
With weakening economic growth Again after rebounding to 3.9% from a year earlier in the three months to September, forecasters expected bolder moves towards reopening the country, whose borders remain largely closed.
Chairman and leader of the ruling Communist Party Xi Jinping expected to make rare overseas trip next weekbut gave little indication of the backsliding from a policy the party has closely associated with social stability and the superiority of its policies.
This was maintained by his seven-person Politburo Standing Committee, which was appointed in October at a party convention that also extended Xi’s political dominance appointing him to a third five-year term as leader. It is teeming with its loyalists, including Shanghai’s former party leader, who imposed a draconian lockdown that triggered food shortages, shuttered factories and confined millions of people to their homes for two months or more.
Residents of cities with just one case in the past week are barred from traveling to Beijing, while foreign travelers must quarantine in a hotel for seven to 10 days – if able to navigate in the timely and opaque process of obtaining a visa.
Business groups say this discourages foreign executives from visiting, prompting companies to shift their investment plans to other countries. Visits by U.S. officials and lawmakers tasked with maintaining crucial trade relations amid tensions over tariffs, Taiwan and human rights have all but stalled.
Last week, access to part of the central city of Zhengzhou, home to the world largest iphone factory, was suspended after residents tested positive for the virus. Thousands of workers jumped fences and marched along highways to escape the factory run by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group. Many said colleagues who fell ill received no help and working conditions were unsafe.
Also last week, people posted outraged comments on social media after a 3-year-old boy, whose North West compound was under quarantine, died of carbon monoxide poisoning. His father complained that the guards enforcing the closure refused to help him and tried to arrest him as he took his son to hospital.
Despite these complaints, Chinese citizens have little say in shaping policy under the authoritarian one-party system that maintains rigid controls over the media and public protests.
Speculation over when the measures will be eased has centered on the government’s willingness to import or locally produce more effective vaccines, with the elderly population particularly vulnerable.
That could happen as early as next spring, when a new slate of officials is expected to be named under Xi’s continued leadership. Or, the restrictions could persist much longer if the government continues to reject the notion of living to learn with a relatively low level of cases that cause far fewer hospitalizations and deaths than when the pandemic was at its peak.
The Associated Press