Lockdowns Spread as New Omicron Variants Evade China’s Zero-Covid Net

Date: Friday, November 11th, 2022
Source: Wall Street Journal

China’s manufacturing hub of Guangzhou locked down more of the city as the country struggles to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in more than six months, underscoring the challenge to leader Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy from new, more transmissible variants.

Around four million residents of the city’s Liwan and Panyu districts were told to stay home Wednesday, allowed out for essential journeys only. Supermarkets were restricted to making deliveries only. Many schools across the city were moving classes online, and university students were barred from entering or leaving campus.

Authorities in Guangzhou, capital of the export powerhouse of Guangdong province, said the restrictions would remain in place through the weekend in what they have described as the worst outbreak since the pandemic began. Other areas of the city, including Baiyun, a logistics hub that is home to the international airport and a major FedEx Express base, have already faced less severe restrictions, while some workers have been confined to their factories and dormitories.

The city accounted for almost all of the almost 3,000 new locally transmitted Covid cases recorded in Guangdong on Tuesday.

In all, China reported more than 7,700 new infections on Tuesday, the highest tally since late April. While low by international standards, especially given China’s 1.4 billion people, the scale of the outbreak is worrying for a government that has placed so much emphasis on denying the virus any foothold in the country. The fact that China’s elderly are less widely vaccinated than the population at large is especially concerning for Chinese officials.

Unlike the outbreak that led to the monthslong lockdown of Shanghai earlier this year, cases have spread more widely—all of China’s 31 provincial-level regions reported new locally transmitted infections for Tuesday. In addition to Guangdong in the south, central Henan province and the northern autonomous region of Inner Mongolia also reported more than 1,000 cases Tuesday. Some other areas reported several hundred new cases each.

The latest lockdowns in Guangzhou show how Chinese officials are still willing to use heavy handed restrictions on people’s movements to try to prevent the virus from spreading, even though they may exact a heavy economic toll.

Apple Inc. on Sunday warned that shipments of its high-end iPhone models would be lower than expected because of Covid-related disruptions to a plant in Henan. Foxconn Technology Group had been trying to contain an outbreak at its Zhengzhou plant using a closed-loop system that effectively cut off large numbers of workers from the outside world. After thousands of workers fled the factory to escape the virus, the government locked down the surrounding area.

To minimize damage to the economy, local officials in some regions have been working to make lockdowns more precise by targeting specific clusters through contract tracing.

In the capital Beijing, cases hit their highest since May. At that time, restaurants were closed for dining in, office buildings sat empty and many residents feared a citywide order to stay at home.

By contrast, Beijing today is operating largely normally, aside from schools in at least one district moving to online learning this week. Many people walk around outside unmasked, although masks are strictly enforced indoors.

Authorities in Guangzhou said they are working hard to minimize the disruption to the lives of the city’s more than 18 million residents. Still, many Chinese have grown weary of the restrictions on their movements. Almost every day on social media, written complaints are posted and videos emerge showing residents venting their anger at local officials.

“New cases are just new cases. Hurry up and give us our freedom back,” wrote one person in Guangdong on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. Many of the 1,700 comments on a state-media report about the latest outbreak were critical of the government’s Covid measures.

A spokeswoman for Guangzhou’s health authorities, Zhang Yi, said at a press conference Wednesday that local police were investigating multiple people who had broken out of fenced-off areas under quarantine in the city, stressing that doing so was illegal. She also criticized others in the city who hadn’t cooperated with Covid-control authorities.

“It’s your responsibility to take care of your own health,” she said.

In the eastern city of Linyi, in coastal Shandong province, police announced Tuesday that seven people had been detained after a violent clash involving residents and officials enforcing virus controls.

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