China is seeing a record number of COVID-19 cases, and anger is running high

(BEIJING) The daily number of COVID-19 cases reached a new record in China, authorities announced Thursday, which are increasing strict confinement, mass testing and travel restrictions, risking overwhelming residents, including roars of anger.

The National Health Bureau said China recorded 31,454 cases on Wednesday, of which 27,517 were asymptomatic.

The new numbers are higher than the 29,390 infections recorded in mid-April, when Shanghai – the world’s third most populous city – was under lockdown and its residents were struggling to buy food and access medical care.

These numbers seem relatively low given the massive Chinese population, with a population of more than 1.4 billion, and the records observed in Western countries at the height of the epidemic.

But under Beijing’s strict “zero COVID-19” policy tirelessly, even the slightest increase in cases leads to entire cities being locked down and contacts of patients put into strict quarantine.

This relentless strategy is causing fatigue and resentment of whole sections of the population as the epidemic, which was detected at the end of 2019 in China, is approaching its third year.

China is the only major economy in the world that still imposes such restrictions, which has sparked scattered protests.

Hundreds of workers at the world’s largest iPhone factory have vented outrage over their living conditions at their huge industrial site in the central city of Zhengzhou, which has been under strict confinement since October.

Screenshot Press France

Workers at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou showed their anger.

Several major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing, have also tightened restrictions on positive cases.

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A manufacturing hub in the southern city of Guangzhou, where nearly a third of COVID-19 cases have been detected, has built thousands of makeshift hospital rooms to accommodate patients.

‘Slow, expensive and bumpy’

In Beijing, which has seen an epidemic outbreak in recent days, dozens of apartment buildings have been booked and companies are popularizing remote work.

The city government said the capital requires a negative 48-hour PCR test result to enter public places such as malls, hotels and government buildings.

Schools, restaurants and businesses closed again, for fear of being quarantined: a large part of Beijing’s population is now mentally exhausted by these restrictions, which are often vague and variable, and their duration is not announced in advance.

On Wednesday, the capital announced nearly 1,500 new positive cases (the vast majority asymptomatic) for its 22 million population, a level still very low by international standards.

The reaction of the Chinese authorities seems disproportionate compared to many other countries in the world, which have learned to live with the virus.

But China has yet to approve general use of the most effective mRNA vaccines, and only 85% of adults over 60 had received two doses of the national vaccines by mid-August, according to Chinese health officials.

And Shijiazhuang, a town near Beijing that was seen as a pilot city to test reopening strategies, reversed most of its easing measures this week.

“The road to reopening could be slow, expensive and bumpy,” Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, said in a note. “Shanghai-style full lockdowns could be avoided, but could be replaced by frequent partial lockdowns in a growing number of cities due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.”

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