China’s daily COVID cases have risen to their highest since the pandemic began, official data showed on Thursday, even as the government continues a zero-tolerance approach that includes massive lockdowns and travel restrictions.
The numbers are relatively small compared to China’s huge population of 1.4 billion and the number of cases seen in Western countries at the height of the pandemic.
But under Beijing’s strict zero-COVID policy, even small outbreaks can shut down entire cities and put contacts of infected patients under strict quarantine.
The country recorded 31,454 domestic cases – 27,517 without symptoms – on Wednesday, the National Health Bureau said.
The relentless zero-covid push has fueled fatigue and frustration among segments of the population as the pandemic approaches its third anniversary, sparking occasional protests and hurting productivity in the world’s second-largest economy.
On Wednesday, violent protests erupted at Foxconn’s giant iPhone factory in central China, with video showing dozens of dangerous staff carrying clubs and chasing workers.
The latest figures surpass the 29,390 infections recorded in mid-April when the metropolis of Shanghai was under lockdown, as residents struggled to buy food and access medical care.
Several cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing, have tightened COVID restrictions as cases rise.
The capital now requires a negative PCR test result within 48 hours for those who want to enter public places such as shopping malls, hotels and government buildings, Beijing officials said. Schools across the city have moved to online learning.
The southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou – where nearly a third of the latest COVID cases were found – has built thousands of temporary hospital rooms to accommodate patients.
A series of new rules announced by the central government earlier this month appeared to signal a shift from zero-COVID, easing quarantine requirements to enter the country and simplifying the system for designating high-risk areas.
But China has yet to approve a more effective mRNA vaccine for public use, and only 85 percent of adults over 60 had received two doses of the national vaccine by mid-August, according to health officials.
And Shijiazhuang, a city in neighboring Beijing that was seen as a pilot to test reopening strategies, reversed most of the easing measures this week.
“The road to reopening could be slow, costly and bumpy,” Ting Lu, Nomura’s chief China economist, said in a note. “Shanghai-style full lockdowns could be avoided, but could be replaced by more frequent partial lockdowns in a growing number of cities due to rising numbers of COVID cases.”
© 2022 AFP