China has recorded a record number of daily Covid cases, the highest since the pandemic began, as Beijing continues to struggle to control the virus. There were 31,527 cases recorded cases on Wednesday, surpassing the 28,000 peak that was recorded in April, when Shanghai, China’s largest city, was on lockdown. Now, large outbreaks are being reported across several regions, including the capital city Beijing and trading hub Guangzhou, despite the Government slapping down tough restrictions as it scrambles to control the spread of the disease. Measures have in fact been so strict that citizens have erupted in protest, pushing back against that state’s zero-Covid policy.
Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, warned earlier this week that China will roll out “the most complicated and severe prevention and control” measures, but warned that the situation is getting increasingly harder to manage.
However, the huge surge in cases comes after an earlier relaxation of some of the tough restrictions that had proved successful in saving lives in the country with a population of 1.4 billion. According to Chinese officials, the zero-tolerance approach has resulted in significantly lower case and mortality numbers in comparison with other countries.
Quarantine for close contacts had been cut from seven days in a state facility to five days and three days at home. The authorities also stopped recording secondary contacts, which let far more people avoid quarantine.
Officials have also been scrambling to avoid enforcing blanket lockdowns like Shanghai experienced earlier this year. But now that cases are hitting record highs, it appears as though the toughest possible measures could be back on the cards.
In areas of Beijing, for instance, students’ classes are being moved online as schools gear up to shut in some regions, with residents in some of the worst-affected areas ordered to stay at home.
China’s zero-COVID policy calls for cities to use more targeted clampdown measures and avoid widespread lockdowns. In Guangzhou in southern China, a five-day lockdown for its most populous district was also ordered earlier this week. The central city of Zhengzhou is also gearing up to enforce an effective lockdown for 6.6 million residents from Friday, officials have said.
Beginning on Thursday, residents can reportedly only leave their homes to buy food or get medical treatment. Meanwhile, the Government is rolling out a daily mass testing as part of its “war of annihilation” as it scrambles to eradicate the virus.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has argued that stringent measures are needed to protect China’s elderly population, which has a lower vaccine takeup compared with other developed nations.
While China has an overall vaccination rate of over 92 percent who have received at least one dose, that number is far smaller among the elderly, especially those aged over 80, where it is only 65 percent. The total official toll to 5,227 in the capital has now reached 5,227, following the first recorded deaths from the virus since May.
But the tough measures have proved disruptive to both the national economy — with Mainland China shares pushing lower as Covid’s toll raises concerns — and also the population, as public anger at the measures taken by the authorities has soared, despite the nation’s strict censorship laws.
Last week, students and staff at Peking University in Beijing were told they would not be allowed to leave the grounds unless absolutely necessary after just one case was discovered on campus.
Chet, a resident of the city who lives near to where a heated protest took place, told Reuters: “It was quite tense out there last night. Everyone made sure their doors were locked. When it happened so close to me I found it really upsetting. I couldn’t sleep last night after watching those images.
And Guangzhou, which is currently suffering from the largest outbreak, mulls over increased localised lockdowns, residents have been tearing down barriers and marching down the streets in protest too.
But Chinese officials have stood by their strategy, arguing it is crucial for saving lives and preventing the medical system from becoming overwhelmed.
And even though Covid cases are reaching record highs, its case load is still small by global standards, with rates far lower than many other developed nations at their pandemic peak.
This is a breaking story. More to follow.