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China zero-Covid: As anger rises and tragedies mount, Beijing shows no sign of budging

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A version of this story appeared in CNN’s China Newsletter, a three-week newsletter that explores what you need to know about China’s rise and its impact on the world. Sign up here.


Mr. Zhou, a car dealer in Tohoku Chinalast saw his father alive on a video chat on the afternoon of November 1, hours after his home in the suburbs of Beijing was put under lockdown.

At the time, they weren’t even aware that the COVID-19 emergency restrictions had been imposed. He said there was no prior warning and no one was infected in the apartment where Zhou’s parents and their 10-year-old son lived.

Zhou’s father was unable to seek emergency medical care immediately because he suddenly started having trouble breathing during a video call. Zhou and his son called an ambulance more than a dozen times, claiming security blocked relatives from entering the building to take their 58-year-old grandfather to the hospital.

An hour later, an ambulance finally arrived and took Zhou’s father to a hospital just five minutes away. But it was too late to save him.

“The local government killed my father,” Zhou told CNN from his home in Beijing, tearing up. He said he had received no explanation as to why the ambulance had taken so long to arrive and only received a death certificate with the wrong date of death.

Mr. Zhou’s anger is part of a torrent of opposition to China’s policies. Constant Zero Covid Lockdownofficials say is necessary to save people’s lives from the virus that, Of the tens of thousands of symptomatic cases reported in the past six months, only six have died, according to official tallies.

But restrictions, rather than the virus, are increasingly being blamed for the heartbreaking death that sparked national outrage on social media.

On the same day Mr. Zhou lost his father, a three-year-old boy died of gas poisoning in a cordoned compound in the northwestern city of Lanzhou after being prevented from being taken to a hospital immediately. Two weeks later, a four-month-old girl died in a hotel isolation facility in central Zhengzhou after medical care was delayed for her by 12 hours.

Like Zhou, many other families have suffered similar tragedies outside the social media spotlight.

Zhou said he contacted several state media outlets in Beijing to report his story, but no reporters came. As his desperation and anger grew, he turned to the foreign media despite knowing the risks of government influence. CNN is only using surnames to mitigate that risk.

“I just want to win justice for my father. Why have you locked us up? Why have you taken my father’s life?”

Across China, anger and frustration over Covid-zero reached new heights, sparking rare scenes of protest as local authorities rushed to reintroduce restrictions. record the infection – Limited relaxation of some rules despite recent government announcements.

Last week, in the southern city of Guangzhou, some residents rebelled against the extended lockdown By tearing down barriers and marching through the streets.

In the central city of Zhengzhou this week, workers at the world’s largest iPhone assembly factory collided with a security guard wearing a protective suit Regarding late bonus payments and chaotic Covid rules.

And on Thursday, in the sprawling metropolis of southwestern Chongqing, a resident gave an impassioned speech Criticizing Covid lockdowns in his residential area. “I want to die without my freedom!” he shouts to a cheering crowd, who hail him as a “hero”, and get out of hand of several policemen who try to take him away.

These acts of defiance reflect an outpouring of online dissatisfaction, particularly from football fans in China (many of whom are under some form of lockdown or restriction), causing tens of thousands of riots. Only from my home could I see the ecstatic fans packed into the stadium. World Cup in Qatar.

“No fans wearing face masks or being asked to provide proof of Covid test results. Aren’t they living on the same planet as us?” I asked for a Wechat article questioning China’s claims of zero Covid, which had previously gone viral.

There are signs that Chinese officials are feeling growing public dissatisfaction on top of the social and economic hit from the extended lockdown.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government announced 20-point guidelines to limit the disruption of the zero Covid rule in daily life and the economy. shortened to days. It also eliminated secondary contact quarantine requirements, discouraged unnecessary large-scale test drives, and lifted major restrictions on international flights.

The announcement raised and triggered hopes for a reorientation towards reopening Rise in Chinese stocks. But such hopes are quickly fading as infections surge as China heads into the fourth winter of the pandemic.On Friday, the country reported a record 32,695 local cases. That’s because the second straight day of infections surpassed his previous peak in April, which was recorded during Shanghai’s months-long lockdown.

Covid workers disguised as hazardous materials help delivery drivers deliver goods for lockdown residents in Beijing on Nov. 24.

Instead of easing restrictions, many local authorities are returning to zero-tolerance policies, seeking to eradicate infections as soon as they flare up again.

Some of the cities that lifted mass testing requirements after the announcement have already tightened other Covid restrictions.

Shijiazhuang in the north is one of the first cities to cancel large-scale tests. It also allowed students to return to school after a long period of online classes. However, as the number of infections increased over the weekend, authorities reimposed the lockdown on Monday, telling residents to stay home.

On Tuesday, the financial hub Shanghai banned anyone arriving in the city from entering shopping malls, restaurants, supermarkets and gyms for five days. Authorities have also closed cultural and entertainment venues in half the city.

In Guangzhou, authorities extended the Haizhu district lockdown five times this week, where protests took place, and closed off the most populous Baiyun district.

Zhengzhou, home to the Foxconn factory where workers clashed with police, has imposed a five-day lockdown on major urban districts.

People ride bicycles on an empty street near Beijing's central business district on November 24.

In Beijing, the streets of Chaoyang, the largest district, are nearly deserted as authorities urged residents to stay home and ordered businesses to close. Several district schools have also moved to online classes this week.

Low vaccination rates among China’s elderly have raised concerns that easing restrictions could overwhelm the country’s health care system. As of November 11, about two-thirds of those 80 and older had received her second dose, and only 40% of him had received a booster dose.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the re-strengthening of Covid controls reflected China’s typical public policy dilemma. But if you tighten it too tight, it will be hard to breathe. ”

Huang said he does not expect any fundamental changes to the Covid-free policy in the short term. “Because the incentive structure for local governments hasn’t changed. They are still responsible for the Covid situation in their jurisdiction,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials have repeatedly denied that the 20 measures listed in government guidelines were intended to redirect the country toward coexistence with the virus.

The measures are about “optimizing” existing Covid prevention and control policies, disease control official Shen Hongbin said at a press conference last week. “They are not easing (of control), much less reopening or ‘laying down,'” he said.

Back on the outskirts of Beijing, Zhou said the zero-coronavirus policy was “beneficial for the majority” but that its implementation at the local level was too stringent.

“I want to make sure nothing like this ever happens again in China or anywhere in the world,” he said. “I lost my father. My son lost his beloved grandfather. I am furious now.”

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