Guangzhou eases restrictions despite worsening Covid outbreak

Guangzhou eases restrictions despite worsening Covid outbreak
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Guangzhou partially lifted a week-long lockdown, moving away from strict enforcement of China’s strict zero-Covid policy, despite the city of 18 million suffering the worst Covid-19 outbreak since the pandemic began.

Officials in the southern manufacturing hub on Wednesday eased restrictions on movement in about half of the city’s 11 districts, including Haizhu, where migrant workers have clashed with police over the past month.

The easing of restrictions came a day after Beijing blamed local governments for handling the outbreaks, which have sparked protests in more than 20 cities.

“People on the street say we are free,” Haizhu resident William Zi said. “I don’t know if the pandemic is over – it’s been 20 days at home, so at least we’re free now.”

The announcement by local officials to ease the lockdowns came after direct confirmation from Beijing, two people familiar with the decision said. The timing of the measures, which came despite nearly 7,000 new cases being reported on Wednesday, was seen as indicative of a broader shift in policy direction.

“I think they are testing it in Guangzhou to see if it works. . . Even if they do less mass testing and don’t implement really strict lockdown measures, can Covid still be brought under control,” said Jin Dong-yan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong.

“If it works, they can do the same in other Chinese cities.”

The easing lifted shares in Hong Kong as investors hoped for a way out of Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy that has rattled sentiment in the world’s second-largest economy.

On Wednesday morning, the US envoy to China urged the Xi administration not to interfere with peaceful demonstrations, as the Communist Party’s security chief warned against “hostile” forces.

demon Xinjiang has been rocked by vigils over a deadly apartment fire in the city of Urumqi, blamed in part on coronavirus restrictions, which turned into demonstrations against Xi’s zero-Covid policy and state censorship.

“We believe that the Chinese people have a right to protest peacefully, they have a right to express their views, they have a right to be heard,” Ambassador Nicholas Burns said in a video call from Beijing with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday.

“It’s a fundamental right all over the world — it should be — and that right should not be impeded or interfered with,” he said.

Chinese officials have made little reference to the protests, most of which appeared to have been called off by Monday.

However, Chen Wengjing, head of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, said in a speech broadcast by state media on Tuesday evening that the government should resolve the disputes “in a timely manner” while maintaining order.

“[We] It must resolutely intervene in infiltration and sabotage activities of enemy forces, as well as illegal and criminal activities that disrupt public order,” Chen was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. “Public stability must be ensured.”

Since last week’s Urumqi fire, the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy has tracked more than 40 public protests in 22 Chinese cities, including four on Monday.

Experts warned of a brutal crackdown on an unknown number of people detained over the weekend in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu. China’s criminal conviction rate is 99 percent, and the state is notorious for quashing dissent.

Burns noted “a very strong security presence here in Beijing and in major Chinese cities.”

Burns added that the pandemic has “really shut down normal life” and limited normal diplomatic activity, including visits to check on the health and rights of Americans detained in the country.

“There are enough Americans in prisons in China. . . “We haven’t been able to see most of the American prisoners here for the past three years,” he said.

There were more mixed signals on Wednesday as lockdowns were eased in some areas, while in others local officials tightened restrictions in response to a wave of Covid infections.

In Zhengzhou, the central city where the world’s largest iPhone factory is located, officials lifted city-wide quarantines hours later before adding new restrictions in dozens of “high-risk” areas.

Meanwhile, state-affiliated media in Beijing have published in-depth reports of people’s experiences with Covid infection, a new step towards normalizing the virus after three years of focusing on its dangers.

Authorities have also warned that the health system is strained amid a surge in cases, with the capital’s centralized quarantine capacity three-quarters full.

China reported 36,683 new local infections on Wednesday, slightly below the previous day’s total but well above the peak of daily caseloads reported during a major outbreak in April. The highest caseloads were reported in Chongqing and Guangdong provinces, with nearly 8,000 new cases each.

Additional reporting by William Langley, Ryan McMorrow and Hudson Lockett

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