This morning, Guangzhou, a southern metropolis that is home to almost 19 million people, announced a five-day lockdown for the most populous district of Baiyun, suspended dining-in services and shut nightclubs and theatres in the main business district.
Meanwhile, schools across Beijing have moved to online classes, as authorities battle numerous COVID-19 out-bursts across the country.
Health authorities have reported 962 new infections, and students in schools in several districts began studying online after officials called for residents in some of its hardest-hit areas to stay home in Beijing
In addition to the above, in the capital after announcing the first death in over six months the previous day, health authorities continuously reported two more COVID-19-related deaths.
Medical experts outside China are widely sceptical of the country’s official COVID death toll of fewer than 5,300 given international experience with the virus, although Beijing’s harsh restrictions have kept cases and deaths much lower than elsewhere.
COVID cases are rising across China, with flare-ups in regions ranging from Zhengzhou in central Henan province to Chongqing in the southwest.
While the rest of the world is living with COVID-19, China has stuck with a strict “zero COVID” strategy that relies on lockdowns, mass testing and border controls to stamp out the virus wherever it pops up.
Despite relaxing some COVID curbs, including cutting quarantine for international arrivals from seven to five days, and calling for more targeted measures, Beijing has repeatedly ruled out a fundamental shift away from “zero COVID” even as public frustrations with the policy mount.
China on Sunday announced its first new death from COVID-19 in nearly half a year as strict new measures are imposed in Beijing and across the country to ward against new outbreaks.
It should be noted that last Sunday announced 24,215 new cases were detected over the previous 24 hours, the vast majority of them asymptomatic.
With an overall vaccination rate of more than 92% having received at least one dose, that number is considerably lower among the elderly particularly those over age 80 where it falls to just 65% in China.
This vulnerability is considered one reason why China has mostly kept its borders closed and is sticking with its rigid “zero-COVID” policy that seeks to wipe out infections through lockdowns, quarantines, case tracing and mass testing, despite the impact on normal life and economic and rising public anger at the authorities.
With a population of 1.4 billion, China has officially reported just 286,197 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. That compares to 98.3 million cases and 1 million deaths in the U.S., with its population of 331.9 million, since the virus first appeared there in 2020.
However, based on the ruling Communist Party’s long-established reputation for manipulating statistics, the lack of outside scrutiny and highly subjective criteria for determining the cause of death, China’s figures have come under question.
Critics pointed especially to this year’s outbreak in Shanghai. The city of more than 25 million only reported about two dozen coronavirus deaths despite an outbreak that spanned more than two months and infected hundreds of thousands of people in the world’s third-largest city.
China has also defied advice from the World Health Organization to adopt a more targeted prevention strategy. Beijing has resisted calls to cooperate fully with the investigation into the origin of the virus, angrily rejecting suggestions it may have leaked from a Wuhan lab, seeking to turn such accusations on the U.S. military instead.
In all cases, the party’s instinct to use total control even using routine testing information to limit people’s movements — has won out, with only slight concessions made to criticisms aired on highly censored internet forums.
In response to the latest outrage, the central city of Zhengzhou said Sunday it will no longer require a negative COVID-19 test from infants under age 3 and other “special groups” seeking health care.
The announcement by the Zhengzhou city government came after a second child’s death was blamed on overzealous antivirus enforcement. The 4-month-old girl died after suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea while in quarantine at a hotel in Zhengzhou.
Clashes between authorities and residents fed up with restrictions have been reported in numerous cities despite tight controls on information. A new round of mass testing has been ordered in Huizhou district in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou which has seen such frictions involving migrant workers shut out of their homes, the local government said on its official microblog Sunday.
Yet, the party has often found itself unable to rein in stringent and often unauthorized measures imposed by local officials who fear losing their jobs or facing prosecution if outbreaks occur in areas under their jurisdiction.
As Beijing has mostly kept its borders closed and discouraged travel even within the country, nearly three years into the pandemic, while the rest of the world has largely opened up and the impact on the Chinese economy rises.
Both local and international schools in urban districts of the city of 21 million have been shifted to online studies, In the capital Beijing, residents were stopped from travelling to city districts, and large numbers of restaurants, shops, malls, office buildings and apartment blocks have been closed or isolated.