(BEIJING) As the number of daily COVID-19 cases in China hit a new record, authorities announced Thursday that they are increasing strict quarantines, mass testing and travel restrictions at the risk of exhausting the population, including anger.
China listed 31,454 cases on Wednesday, of which 27,517 were asymptomatic, the National Health Bureau said.
The new figures are higher than the 29,390 infections recorded in mid-April when Shanghai – the world’s third most populous city – was under lockdown.
These figures seem insignificant given the vast Chinese population of more than 1.4 billion inhabitants and the height of the pandemic’s record in Western countries.
But under the strict “zero COVID-19” policy that Beijing relentlessly applies, a slight increase in cases can lead to entire cities being shut down and contacts of infected patients placed under strict quarantine.
This relentless strategy is exhausting and infuriating entire segments of the population as the pandemic, discovered in late 2019 in China, approaches its third year.
China is the only major economy in the world that still imposes such restrictions, prompting occasional protests.
Hundreds of workers at the world’s largest iPhone factory demonstrated their anger at their living conditions at their massive industrial site in Zhengzhou, in the center of the country, which has been under strict lockdown since October.
Several major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing, have also tightened restrictions on positive cases.
The manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in the south, where nearly a third of the Covid-19 cases have been traced, has built thousands of makeshift hospital rooms to accommodate patients.
“Slow, expensive and bumpy”
In Beijing, which has grappled with the outbreak in recent days, dozens of residential buildings are on lockdown and companies are normalizing telework.
A negative 48-hour PCR test result is required to enter public places such as the capital’s shopping malls, hotels and government buildings, the city government said.
Schools, restaurants and businesses are closed again, fearing being placed under quarantine: the majority of Beijing residents are now mentally exhausted by these restrictions, which are often vague and changing, the duration of which is not announced in advance.
The capital on Wednesday announced nearly 1,500 new positive cases (the vast majority asymptomatic) for a population of 22 million, which is very low by international standards.
The response of Chinese authorities seems disproportionate compared to many other countries around the world that have learned to live with the virus.
But China has yet to approve public use of the more effective mRNA vaccines, and only 85% of adults over 60 had received two doses of the national vaccine by mid-August, Chinese health officials said.
And Shijiazhuang, a township neighboring Beijing that had been seen as a pilot city to test reopening strategies, reversed most of its easing measures this week.
“The road to reopening will be slow, expensive and bumpy,” Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, said in a note. “Shanghai-style complete shutdowns can be avoided, but often replaced by partial shutdowns in growing cities due to rising COVID-19 case numbers. »