Which early exit? China Doubles Down on Zero Covid Promise Despite Public Frustration | CNN



China has reiterated its unwavering commitment to its long-standing zero-covid policy, despite mounting public frustration, the stringent measures are costing the very lives they are supposed to protect.

Unfounded rumors of an early exit from the expensive strategy had sent Chinese stocks soaring last week, but at a press conference on Saturday, Chinese health officials pledged to continue with the country’s zero-tolerance approach, which aims to eliminate Covid cases as soon as they flare up. .

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

“Practice has proven that our pandemic prevention and control policies and a set of strategic measures are completely correct, and the most economical and effective,” said Hu Xiang, a disease control official, when asked whether China is Covid policy would adjust in the near future. term.

“We must adhere to the principle of putting people and lives first, and the broader strategy of avoiding imports from outside and internal rebounds,” Hu said.

The announcement dealt a serious blow to hopes of easing restrictions, fueled by unverified social media rumors that China was forming a high-level committee to turn away from zero-Covid. Share prices of Chinese companies listed in mainland China, Hong Kong and the US rocketed last week as investors eagerly took advantage of speculation for a possible easing.

The pledge to stick to zero-Covid also came as a major disappointment to the Chinese public, many of whom have grown increasingly tired of the incessant mass testing, centralized quarantine and strict lockdowns – which have sometimes lasted for months.

Public frustration and resentment have only grown in recent weeks, after top leader Xi Jinping began his norm-breaking third term in power with a resounding endorsement of his zero-covid policy.

Tragic cases seen as policy-related have gained momentum online as people question why it should continue.

On Friday, a 55-year-old woman died from the 12th floor of a locked apartment complex in Hohhot, the capital of the northern region of Inner Mongolia. The compound was closed in late October after two reported cases of the entrance to its building being fenced off by high barricades.

A widespread audio message was heard as the woman’s daughter pounded on the barricade and cried desperately for help.

“Open the gate! Open the gate! I beg you, please,” she heard screaming.

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

The desperate scenes sparked a nationwide outcry, with a related hashtag racking up half a billion views on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform. The local police said in a statement that the woman, who lived with her 29-year-old daughter, suffered from anxiety disorders.

The woman’s death added to a growing list of lives lost during the country’s draconian lockdowns. In another tragedy that sparked nationwide outcry, a 3-year-old boy died of gas poisoning on Wednesday in a closed-off site in the northwestern city of Lanzhou after Covid restrictions delayed rescue efforts.

Experts warned China could be hit by another wave of infections — and another cycle of government-imposed lockdowns — as winter approaches.

China reported 5,496 local infections on Sunday and reached its highest point in six months, according to official data.

More than a third of those infections were reported in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. The city of 19 million is struggling with the worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, which has seen large parts of the Haizhu district shut down.

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

Even in places not under prolonged lockdowns, constant Covid testing orders and strict travel restrictions have fueled growing discontent.

In Beijing, authorities have kept strict requirements for entering the Chinese capital – home to most of the senior Chinese leaders. In the run-up to the Communist Party Congress in October, restrictions were further tightened and have not been relaxed since.

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

A telltale sign of the level of public discontent was among those speaking out against the excessive restrictions, members of the political elite and nationalist influencers. Tao Siliang, the daughter of Tao Zhu, a former member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Supreme Standing Committee, criticized Beijing’s travel restrictions after being barred from returning home from a trip to eastern Zhejiang province through the pop-up window.

“I’ve been a calm person for a long time, but this time I panicked because for the first time I felt the sense of loss and helplessness that I couldn’t return to my own home,” the 81-year-old wrote in a social media post. article has since been removed.

In fact, the difficulties of returning to Beijing proved too much for Zhou Xiaoping, a fiercely nationalist, anti-American blogger whom Xi singled out for praise at an arts and literature conference in 2014. In a series of Weibo posts, he openly stated question the far-reaching travel restrictions and criticized propaganda efforts that exaggerate Covid deaths abroad.

“What the hell is the point of doing this?” he wrote in a post that was later deleted. “The cost of epidemic prevention is not just the economic cost, there are also costs to our livelihoods and lives. Because (you swore to) put the people first, you must seek truths from facts.”

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