Confused political response to record Covid outbreak sparks protests in Guangzhou

Guangzhou is on the razor’s edge, with an eruption of public protests as regional Chinese Communist Party leaders grapple with conflicting guidance from Beijing on how to deal with a record-breaking coronavirus outbreak in the city of 18 million.

Officials in the capital of south China’s Guangdong Province have been caught between easing some Covid-19 measures and trying to quell the spread of the virus.

“Officials were still discussing the need to lock down the city last week as the number of infected rose so rapidly that the government panicked,” said an adviser to the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The dilemma facing provincial and city leaders is being closely watched as a critical test of President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-Covid policy after Beijing signaled plans on Friday to relax some quarantine and contact-tracing requirements.

There is growing uncertainty about how authorities will respond to a surge in omicron outbreaks in the world’s most populous country, including in Beijing and the southwestern megacity of Chongqing. There are also questions about the financial sustainability of zero-Covid as local governments run out of funds to pay for daily bulk PCR testing.

“Guangzhou’s current control approach is like an experiment, focusing only on areas where the number of infections continues to rise and maintaining normal order in other areas,” the Guangdong CDC adviser added.

Guangzhou has reported more than 33,000 cases since October. Cases hit a record 8,761 on Wednesday, more than double the daily rate at the peak of Shanghai’s crippling two-month lockdown this year.

While Guangzhou has averted a city-wide lockdown, at least 9 million residents in five of the city’s 11 main districts face strict restrictions on movement and have to undergo daily tests.

The Guangzhou government announced on Friday that it would immediately lift the quarantine for close contacts from close contacts as they try to adapt to some of Beijing’s new rules.

However, conditions in Guangzhou have sparked a spate of isolated protests, mostly centered in so-called urban villages – clusters of tenements built on former farmland and housing mainly poorer workers and families.

A 35-year-old migrant worker surnamed Wang, who lives in the urban village of Shangchong in Haizhu district, told the Financial Times that a protest broke out in the district after frontline anti-pandemic workers prevented a pregnant woman from entering to leave the sealed house. connection off.

Wang, who has been under lockdown for the past three weeks, said residents are angry at being locked down in their small neighborhoods and complaining of food shortages.

“[The officials] charged us Rmb 25 ($3.50) for a pack of instant noodles,” he said.

On Monday, officials sparked demonstrations after failing to provide fresh food and medical supplies to local residents and migrant workers tired of weeks of lockdowns in Qiaonan’s Haizhu Subdistrict, a small textile manufacturing center, local residents said.

A filmmaker surnamed Zhong, who lives in Guangzhou, told FT she witnessed about 30 migrant workers being forced to sleep on the streets without food or other essential supplies since Monday. The group was barred from returning to their homes in the urban villages of Kangle and Lujiang after being released from the centralized quarantine.

A 21-year-old student named Chen, who lives in an urban village in Panyu District, said residents were barred from entering or leaving their neighborhood on Saturday.

“Many people in our village were considered ‘close contacts of close contacts,'” she said. “I thought the situation would get better after the new measures were announced the day before, but it turns out they locked down the village instead.”

Lockdowns in areas responsible for more than 15 percent of China’s GDP have been in place since Monday, up from 12 percent the week before, according to Nomura data.

“It’s difficult to execute [Beijing’s easing guidelines] while adhering to the zero Covid goal,” said a Guangzhou resident, referring to the city’s frequent changes in its daily Covid testing mandate. Confused political response to record Covid outbreak sparks protests in Guangzhou

Adam Bradshaw

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