Lockdowns and travel restrictions are continuing to cause chaos across China in the run-up to a crucial political meeting next week as the government holds fast to hardline zero-Covid policies.
As thousands of Communist party delegates prepare to descend on Beijing for the twice-a-decade congress meeting, where Xi Jinping is expected to start his third term as leader, local authorities are under pressure to control contain outbreaks. This week 2,883 cases were reported across more than 25 provinces, including 227 on Wednesday. The number is small compared with global cases but relatively high for China’s zero-tolerance approach.
China’s government has remained committed to its zero-Covid policy, despite major damage to the economy and growing opposition from the general public to frequent sudden lockdowns that trap people inside their homes, shops and workplaces, and other overzealous reactions to handfuls of cases.
Videos went viral online this week, showing a snap lockdown at Xishuangbanna airport in Yunnan, a province where just 26 cases were recorded on Tuesday. Clips posted online showed a crowd of frustrated passengers yelling at officials in hazmat suits carrying automatic weapons.
In Xinjiang, authorities have banned the 22 million residents from leaving, retightening restrictions which eased just a few weeks ago. The tightly controlled province has reported about 5,800 cases since June, but just 93 on Wednesday and 97 on Thursday – all asymptomatic. In response, flights were reduced to 75% capacity, with reports that those out of Xinjiang via Kashgar airport, and most of those via Urumqi, had been cancelled. Outbound trains and cross-province transport have also been suspended until further notice.
“The current round of Covid-19 outbreak is the fastest spreading, most widespread, most infectious and most difficult to control public health emergency in the history of Xinjiang,” said Xinjiang’s vice-chair, Liu Sushe.
Reports have also emerged of claims that at least 13 people in Xinjiang died from exposure to disinfectant used by health authorities in their homes.
Reports from Tibet, where information is tightly controlled, have described extreme lockdown conditions for residents since an outbreak began in early August. Activists said people had been deprived of food and work, sent to overcrowded and unhygienic quarantine centres, and that psychological distress had led to several suicides. In September, authorities in Lhasa, the regional capital, admitted to failures in their response, but said the zero-Covid policy would not be altered. The region reported 60 cases on Wednesday.
Last month, an overnight bus crash killed 27 people who were being forcefully moved to a mass quarantine location in south-western China, setting off a storm of anger online over the harshness of the policy. Survivors said they had been compelled to leave their flats despite no cases having been discovered.
In some cities, residents must take multiple PCR tests each week to retain freedom of movement, while others are experiencing sudden lockdowns. Those who travelled for the recent National Day holiday took the risk of being unable to return home if their health code turned yellow or red because they had come into contact with a case or been in the general vicinity of one.
Additional reporting by Xiaoqian Zhu