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People walk inside the Temple of Heaven in Beijing during the Labour Day holidays on May 2, 2022. — AFP pic
People walk inside the Temple of Heaven in Beijing during the Labour Day holidays on May 2, 2022. — AFP pic

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BEIJING, May 6 — Residents of Beijing fretted over anti-virus restrictions curbing their movement while also worrying about the dozens of new Covid-19 cases reported daily, as China’s leaders threatened action against critics of their zero-tolerance Covid policy.

Incurring a heavy economic cost and facing rare bursts of public criticism on its tightly-controlled internet, China is increasingly isolating itself from a world in which Covid restrictions are becoming a thing of the past.

Internationally, industry bodies have complained that Covid curbs in China have global economic reverberations. At home, the population was worried about painful, long-term restrictions.

Beijing was racing to avoid an explosive rise in cases like the one that forced the commercial and financial hub of Shanghai into an almost complete lockdown for more than a month. The mood among the capital’s residents was tense.

“Sometimes everyone seems easily irritable,” said Shi Wei, a retiree in Beijing. “When the virus can change people’s way of life at any time, people are more susceptible to mood swings.”

After a meeting of the country’s highest decision-making body, the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s politburo, state TV reported late on Thursday that China will fight any comments and actions that distort, doubt or repudiate its Covid policy. 

Relaxing Covid controls, which were being imposed in dozens of cities across the world’s second-largest economy and affecting hundreds of millions of people, would lead to large-scale infections, it warned.

On Friday, an editorial in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper hit back against accusations China’s Covid policy is disrupting global economy and trade.

“Some US politicians have frequently attacked and smeared China’s epidemic prevention and control measures and tried to throw the blame on China for the so-called disruption of global supply chains,” it said without naming the people.

It said China was putting “life first,” and that although pressure on its economy has increased, the country could overcome difficulties.

State television reported that the State Council, or cabinet, had given an assurance that more support measures would be rolled out to stabilise employment and help the foreign trade sector. 

‘Effective control’

Shanghai vice major Wu Qing said on Friday Covid-19 infections have been on a “continuous downward trend” since April 22, and “the epidemic has come under effective control.”

And yet most of the city’s 25 million people remained unable to leave their housing compounds or were only allowed out briefly. Some were in this situation despite their community’s risk rating being officially downgraded to a level that in theory should allow them to move more freely.

Beijing has reported dozens of new cases a day for about two weeks since its outbreak emerged. On Friday, officials said they detected 72 cases on May 5, the highest number so far.

On the corresponding day 14 of its own outbreak, Shanghai was reporting 139 cases but numbers quickly surged afterwards.

Isolated lockdown of residential buildings and closures of restaurants and other venues remained in place. But after three consecutive days of mandatory mass testing, Beijing residents were given a break on Friday.

But weekly Covid tests would be required from residents to enter office buildings and public venues and take subways or buses, state-backed Beijing Daily reported.

Beijing’s demand for rolling negative test results in coming days and weeks would require a robust testing infrastructure to meet the demand of the city’s 22 million people.

Some residents have complained they never received all the results from recent rounds of mass testing, while others were hit by “pop-up windows” on their mobile health apps, preventing them from accessing public transport or public spaces even though they have done their tests.

“Yesterday I couldn’t enter the office building because of the pop-up even though I tested negative within 24 hours. Isn’t that insane?” said a resident surnamed Wang.

Goldman Sachs analysts said regular testing could be a potential middle-ground strategy Chinese cities could embark on going forward, allowing cases to be identified and isolated early with much lower costs than city-wide lockdowns.

It “would not be a panacea, but would help limit disruption to a large part of China’s manufacturing and overall economic activity for a protracted period,” they said. — Reuters


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