China’s ‘unswerving’ zero-Covid rules see no let up

Unexpected announcement quashes hopes of lifting lockdowns, quarantining and rigorous testing

Health officials in China on Saturday dashed hopes there would be a relaxation of the country’s strict Covid-19 restrictions. At a news conference, they insisted China would “unswervingly” stick to its zero-Covid policy which includes lockdowns, quarantining and rigorous testing aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

The announcement follows several days’ speculation that they were considering changing a disease containment policy that has disrupted economic growth and daily life, and is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world.

Last week’s talk of relaxation had rallied stock markets in China with investors – as well as the public – latching on to any hints of change. The death of a three-year-old boy in a quarantined residential compound had fuelled growing discontent with the anti-virus controls and triggered rumours of policy shifts. By Wednesday, the MSCI China Index had rallied by $450bn.

But yesterday disease control official Hu Xiang, from China’s national health commission, said the restrictions were completely correct and represented the most economical and effective policy for the nation. “We should adhere to the principle of putting people and lives first, and the broader strategy of preventing imports from outside and internal rebounds,” she told reporters.

Officials added they would begin a push to increase vaccinations among the elderly, noting that while 86.4% of citizens aged 60 and above are fully vaccinated, fewer people 80 and older have had vaccinations and boosters.

China reported 3,837 new Covid infections on Friday across the country, of which 657 were symptomatic, a slight decrease from the six-month high of 4,045 new infections reported a day earlier. It is thought there are about 200 lockdowns across China, with the harshest and longest in highly securitised regions.

In the south-eastern city of Guangzhou, Haizhu district suspended bus and subway services for three days, urging residents to stay at home as it conducted mass testing of its 1.8 million people at the end of October. Restrictions are also in place in parts of Inner Mongolia and the western Xinjiang region, where 43 new high-risk areas were designated on Saturday, including Ürümqi, the regional capital.

Frustrations over the severity of the measures have become widespread, with anger spilling out in Wuhan, where videos show residents damaging public property and shouting “give us freedom”.

Health officials admitted that some areas had been guilty of an unscientific “one-size-fits-all” attitude to lockdowns, singling out the western cities of Nanchong and Bijie. “We attach great importance to these problems and are rectifying them,” said Tuo Jia, another disease control official.


Robin McKie, Science editor

The GuardianTramp

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