China has reiterated its unwavering commitment to its long-standing zero-Covid policy, despite growing public frustration that tough measures are costing the lives it seeks to protect.
Unsubstantiated rumors of an exit from the costly strategy sent Chinese stocks soaring last week, but at a press conference on Saturday, Chinese health officials pledged to continue the country’s zero-tolerance approach, which aims to stamp out cases of Covid-19 as soon as they flare up.
A sustained campaign has kept infections and deaths low at great economic and social costs, as new rapidly spreading variants make it impossible to contain the virus.
“Experience has proven that our pandemic prevention and control policy and a series of strategic measures are absolutely correct and the most cost-effective and effective,” disease control official Hu Xiang said when asked if China would adjust its Covid policy in the near future. duration.
“We must adhere to the principle of putting people and lives first and the broader strategy of preventing foreign imports and domestic rebounds,” Hu said.
The announcement dealt a heavy blow to hopes of an easing of restrictions, fueled by unconfirmed social media rumors that China had set up 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 rose last week as investors eagerly seized any speculation of possible relief.
The zero-Covid promise has also been a major disappointment to the Chinese public, many of whom have grown increasingly weary of continued mass testing, centralized quarantine and strict lockdowns — sometimes lasting months.
Public frustration and discontent has only grown in recent weeks, after supreme leader Xi Jinping began a norm-breaking third term with a resounding endorsement of a zero-Covid policy.
Tragic cases thought to be politically motivated gained momentum online as people asked why it had to continue.
A 55-year-old woman died on Friday after falling from the 12th floor of a gated residential complex in Hohhot, capital of the northern region of Inner Mongolia. The building was closed in late October after two incidents where the entrance to the building was fenced off with high barricades were reported.
In the widely shared audio message, the woman’s daughter was heard crashing into the barricade, crying desperately for help and pleading with community workers to open the barrier so she could rush to her mother.
“Open the door! Open the door! Please, I’m begging you,” he was heard shouting.
In another video, her daughter is seen kneeling next to her mother, who is lying motionless on the ground, still wearing a face mask, crying.
The desperate scenes sparked a nationwide outcry, with the associated hashtag garnering half a billion views on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo. The local police said that the woman, who lives with her 29-year-old daughter, suffers from anxiety disorder.
The woman’s death added to the growing list of lives lost during the country’s draconian lockdowns. In another tragedy that sparked nationwide outrage, a 3-year-old boy died of gas poisoning in a closed building in the northwestern city of Lanzhou on Wednesday after Covid restrictions delayed rescue efforts.
Experts have warned that China could face a new wave of infections and a new period of government-imposed lockdowns as winter approaches.
China reported a six-month high on Sunday with 5,496 local infections, according to official data.
More than a third of these infections were reported in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. The city of 19 million people is battling its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, with large areas of Haizhu district under lockdown.
At a news conference on Sunday, authorities blamed some residents for spreading the virus by breaking lockdown rules and removing barriers to go out to buy daily supplies.
Even in places not under extended lockdowns, constant Covid testing mandates and strict travel restrictions have fueled growing discontent.
Authorities in Beijing have tightened requirements to enter the Chinese capital, home to most of China’s top leaders. Restrictions were tightened ahead of the Communist Party congress in October and have not been eased since.
Residents and business travelers have complained about a window in Beijing’s health program preventing them from returning to the capital despite negative Covid test results.
In a clear sign of the extent of public discontent, those speaking out against the extreme restrictions included members of the political elite and nationalist influencers. Tao Siliang, the daughter of Tao Zhu, a former member of the Communist Party’s top Politburo Standing Committee, criticized Beijing’s travel restrictions after she was barred by a pop-up from returning home from a trip to the eastern province of Zhejiang.
“I’ve been a cool person for a long time, but this time I panicked because I had my first taste of loss and desperation because I couldn’t go back to my own home,” the 81-year-old wrote. social media article after it was deleted.
The challenges of returning to Beijing proved too much for Zhou Xiaopin, a staunch nationalist and anti-American blogger who was praised by Xi at an arts and literature conference in 2014. In a series of Weibo posts, he publicly questioned. criticized far-reaching travel restrictions and propaganda efforts that exaggerated Covid deaths abroad.
“What’s the point of doing that?” he wrote in a post that was later deleted. “The cost of preventing an epidemic is not only an economic cost, but also a cost to our livelihoods and lives. Since you (promised) put the people first, you should look for the truth from the facts.”