December 6, 2022

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China Zero-Covid: As anger mounts and tragedies mount, Beijing shows no sign of budging

China Zero-Covid: As anger mounts and tragedies mount, Beijing shows no sign of budging

A version of this story appeared on CNN’s newscast simultaneously in China, a thrice-weekly update that explores what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it is affecting the world. Register here.


Beijing
CNN

Zhou, a car dealer in the northeast ChinaHe last saw his father alive in a video chat on the afternoon of November 1, hours after their home in the far suburbs of Beijing was sealed off.

At the time, they didn’t even realize the sudden restrictions imposed on Covid — there was no advance warning, and the apartment building where Zhou’s parents and 10-year-old son lived had no cases, he said.

The family found out the hard way, however, when Chu’s father was denied immediate emergency medical assistance after he suddenly began struggling to breathe during a video call. He said Chu and his son made dozens of calls for an ambulance, claiming that security guards had prevented relatives from entering the building to take the 58-year-old grandfather to hospital.

An hour later, an ambulance finally arrived to take Chu’s father to a hospital just five minutes away. But it was too late to save him.

The local government killed my father, Zhou told CNN at his home in Beijing, and he broke down in tears. He said he received no explanation as to why the ambulance took so long to arrive, only a death certificate stating the wrong date of death.

Zhou’s anger is part of a growing torrent of opposition to China Relentless lockdowns against the Covid viruswhich officials insist is necessary to protect people’s lives from the virus that – that, According to official statistics, only six people have died out of the tens of thousands of symptomatic cases reported in the past six months.

But increasingly, the restrictions — not the virus — are being blamed for the heartbreaking deaths that have sparked nationwide outrage on social media.

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On the same day Zhou lost his father, a 3-year-old boy died of gas poisoning in a closed compound in the northwestern city of Lanzhou, after he was refused immediate hospitalization. Two weeks later, a 4-month-old girl quarantined in a hotel in downtown Zhengzhou died after a 12-hour delay in medical attention.

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It’s possible that many families, like the Zhu family, have experienced similar tragedies outside of the social media spotlight.

Zhou said he contacted several state media outlets in Beijing to report his story, but no journalists showed up. Amid growing desperation and anger, he turns to foreign media – despite knowing of the danger of repercussions from the government. CNN is using his title only to mitigate this danger.

“I just want to get justice for my father. Why did you lock us up? Why did you take my father’s life?” he said.

Workers erect metal barriers outside a closed community in Beijing on November 24.

Across China, anger and frustration over the lack of Covid has reached new heights and led to rare scenes of protest, as local authorities scramble to reimpose restrictions amid Casualty registration – Despite the government’s recent announcement of a limited easing of some rules.

Last week, in the southern city of Guangzhou, some residents He revolted against the extended lockdown By demolishing barriers and walking in the streets.

In the central city of Zhengzhou this week, workers at the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant They clashed with security officers dressed in hazmat gear Due to late payment of bonus and messy Covid rules.

And on Thursday, in the sprawling city of Chongqing in the southwest, he is still He gave a fiery speech Criticizing the Covid lockdown on his apartment complex. “Without freedom, I would rather die!” He screamed in front of a cheering crowd, who hailed him as a “hero” and wrestled him from the grip of several police officers who tried to take him away.

These acts of defiance reflected an outpouring of discontent online, particularly from Chinese soccer fans – many under some form of lockdown or restrictions – who could only watch from home as tens of thousands of boisterous fans packed stadiums in World Cup in Qatar.

“None of the fans have been seen wearing face masks, or asked to provide proof of Covid test results. Don’t they live on the same planet as us?” asked the Wechat article questioning China’s insistence on zero Covid, which spread quickly before it could be censored.

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There are signs that Chinese officials are feeling the heat of mounting public discontent, which has come on top of the huge social and economic toll the widening lockdowns have taken.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government released a 20-point guideline to limit disruption to daily life and the economy by zero Covid rules. And it shortened the quarantine from 10 to eight days for close contacts of the infected and for incoming travelers. It also eliminated quarantine requirements for secondary contacts, discouraged unnecessary mass testing drives and eliminated significant restrictions on international flights.

The announcement raised hopes of a move toward reopening Chinese stocks rose. But the escalation of infections as China approaches the entry of the fourth winter of the epidemic is rapidly eroding these hopes. On Friday, the country reported a record 32,695 local cases, as for the second day in a row infections surpassed the previous peak recorded in April during Shanghai’s months-long lockdown.

Covid workers wearing Hazmat outfits help delivery drivers drop off goods for residents under lockdown in Beijing on November 24.

Instead of loosening controls, many local officials are reverting to the playbook, trying to stamp out infections once they break out.

Some cities that dropped requirements for mass testing after the announcement are already tightening other Covid restrictions.

The northern city of Shijiazhuang was among the first to cancel mass exams. It also allowed students to return to schools after a long period of online lessons. But as the number of cases soared over the weekend, authorities re-imposed a lockdown on Monday, asking residents to stay home.

China covid wang protests

The video captures the harsh reality of China’s anti-coronavirus strategy

On Tuesday, the Shanghai Financial Center banned anyone arriving in the city from entering places including malls, restaurants, supermarkets and gyms for five days. The authorities also closed cultural and entertainment venues in half of the city.

In Guangzhou, officials this week extended the lockdown of Haizhou district – where the protest took place – for a fifth time, sealing off the most populous district of Baiyun.

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Zhengzhou, home to the Foxconn factory where workers clashed with police, imposed a five-day lockdown on its major urban areas.

People ride bicycles on an empty street near the central business district in Beijing on November 24.

In Beijing, streets in Chaoyang, its largest district, were largely empty as authorities urged residents to stay home and ordered businesses to close. Schools in many regions also moved to online classes this week.

Low vaccination rates among China’s elderly have led to concerns that easing restrictions could overwhelm the country’s health system. As of November 11, about two-thirds of people 80 and older had received two doses, and only 40% had received a booster dose.

Retightening Covid controls reflects a typical public policy dilemma in China, said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations: “If you loosen the policy, there will be chaos. But if you tighten, it will be stifling.”

Huang said he does not expect any fundamental changes to the zero-COVID policy in the short term. “Because the incentive structure of local governments has not changed. They are still responsible for the Covid situation in their jurisdiction,” he said.

For their part, Chinese officials have repeatedly denied that the 20 measures listed in the government’s guidelines are intended to pivot to coexisting with the virus.

Shen Hongping, a disease control official, said at a press conference last week that the measures are about “improving” the existing Covid prevention and control policy. “They are not facilitating (to control), let alone reopening or ‘laying down’,” he said.

Back in the suburbs of Beijing, Zhu said that while the no-Covid policy “benefits the majority”, its implementation at the local level has been too draconian.

“I don’t want such things to happen again in China and anywhere in the world,” he said. “I lost my father. My son lost his beloved grandfather. I am angry now.”

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