Beijing — Rumors thatmay relax its strict “zero COVID” policy boosted stock markets in China and brought some hope that life in the country could return to something resembling normal late last week. By Monday morning, however, investors were once again facing the reality that China’s massive economic engine could remain at a lower gear for weeks to come.
Senior officials dashed hopes of lifting the draconian measures during a press conference on Saturday, reaffirming China’s commitment towhich Beijing has used for years in an effort to keep the lid on hearths.
National Health Commission official Hu Xiang called China’s COVID-19 containment measures “absolutely correct” and “the most economical and effective.”
But the policy doesn’t seem to be working very well.
China hasn’t had a true zero COVID day — without a single domestic infection — since late June. On Monday, authorities reported a total of 5,436 cases in the country, a relatively small number compared to other major countries but a six-month high for China.
A district of about 1.7 million people in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou is under lockdown after 1,935 cases were reported there, whilein some areas of Beijing due to new cases only numbering in the tens.
A 55-year-old woman from Inner Mongolia, who was struggling with an anxiety disorder, died last Friday after jumping from her apartment, which was under lockdown after just two cases were reported in the building.
Just three days earlier, a three-year-old boy in neighboring Gansu province died of carbon monoxide poisoning. His father blamed the strict virus control measures for indirectly killing his son by hindering his family’s efforts to get him emergency medical help.
The government’s economic case for approaching zero COVID-19 has also been challenged by the high price businesses have paid.
Taiwan-based electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn, which makes 70 percent of Apple’s popular iPhone products, recently had a cluster of COVID-19 cases among its roughly 200,000 workers at its plant in central China’s Zhengzhou province. The company first banned food in campus cafeterias to avoid crowds and mitigate the spread of the virus,.
Videos of factory workers, worried about contracting COVID, escaping the massive facility by walking along highways have gone viral on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok. Foxconn offered staff cash bonuses in a bid to keep them on the site, but Reuters news agency said problems at the facility could lead to production of new iPhones falling by as much as 30 percent this month in the run-up to Christmas. .
applethat it expects lower shipments of some premium iPhone 14 models due in part to the disruption at the Zhengzhou factory.
Last week, the Disneyland Resort in Shanghai abruptlyas authorities administered a COVID test to each of them after it emerged that a single confirmed case had visited the park in the previous days.
Data released on Monday showed that China’s exports and imports unexpectedly contracted in October for the first time since the early days of the pandemic.
A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai reported that optimism among American businesses in China reached record levels, with only 55% of companies surveyed describing themselves as optimistic about the next five years.
Xi Jinping does not budge
While people and organizations outside China have questioned Beijing’s strict policy on COVID, however, in a country with limited freedom of speech, domestic voices opposing the measures are quickly silenced and rarely heard outside the protective anonymity afforded by the internet.
A rare, notable exception to this self-censorship was the lone protester who became known as “Bridge Man.” The man carried a large banner over a bridge in central Beijing last month, just before a gathering of the Communist Party’s National Congress, that read: “We don’t want COVID tests, we want food. We don’t want lockdowns, we want freedom.”
Authorities quickly showed up and removed the man’s banner and took him into custody. Since then there has been no news of him.
While the protest inspired a wave of online support from like-minded, disgruntled citizens inside China and abroad, President Xi Jinping has given no indication that his zero-covid-19 policy will be relaxed anytime soon.