The southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou announced plans on Thursday to build quarantine facilities for nearly 250,000 people to combat growing coronavirus outbreaks, even as the national government tries to reduce the impact of disease controls that have confined Millions of people in their homes.
Guangzhou, a city of 13 million people and the largest in a series of outbreaks in China with outbreaks since early October, reported 9,680 new cases in the past 24 hours. That was about 40 percent of the 23,276 cases reported across the country.
China’s infection numbers are low compared to the United States and other major countries, but the ruling Communist Party is trying to isolate all cases. Repeated neighborhood, school and business closures are fueling public frustration and clashes with health workers.
“The epidemic situation in Guangzhou is still very serious,” a city official, Wang Baosen, was quoted as saying by the South Metropolis Daily newspaper.
Guangzhou authorities have sent 95,300 people from the city’s Haizhu district to quarantine centers or for hospital treatment, the government announced.
Access to the district of 1.8 million people was suspended last week following outbreaks, but some controls were lifted on Monday.
Videos on social media saying they were shot in Guangzhou showed angry residents breaking down barriers set up by white-clad health workers.
Guangzhou will add 246,407 beds, including 132,015 in hospital isolation wards and 114,392 for people infected but not showing symptoms, the city government said. A series of rapid-build initiatives in China since the start of the pandemic in 2020 have built hospitals with thousands of beds in just one week.
A spike in infections has prompted officials in areas of China to confine families to cramped apartments or order people to self-quarantine if a single case is found in their workplace or neighborhood.
Guangzhou is one of several populous cities that have been trying to respond to outbreaks with more flexible tactics.
The Communist Party promised last week to lower the cost of virus checks by reducing the length of quarantines and changing other rules. However, party leaders said they will stick to the “zero COVID” strategy at a time when other countries are easing restrictions and trying to live with the virus.
That flexibility could be a preparation for China’s reopening, but the timetable is unclear, Bank of America economists Helen Qiao, Benson Wu and Xiaoqing Pi said in a report. They pointed to Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shijiazhuang, which are dealing with outbreaks.
“Your answers and reopening paths will be useful for other cities to prepare for their reopening,” they said.
“No matter what measures they take, we expect a short-term impact on local economic activities.” Economists and health experts have said that “zero COVID” could hold for up to another year because the government needs to vaccinate millions of older people before it can lift restrictions that keep most foreign visitors out of China.
Also on Thursday, authorities faced more public anger after the death of a second child was blamed on an overzealous antivirus app.
The 4-month-old girl died after suffering from vomiting and diarrhea while in quarantine at a hotel in the central city of Zhengzhou, according to media reports and social media posts. They said it took her father 11 hours to get help after emergency services refused, eventually sending her to a hospital 60 miles (100 kilometers) away.
The death came after the ruling party vowed this month that quarantined people would not be prevented from getting emergency aid following protests over the death of a 3-year-old boy from carbon monoxide poisoning in the northwest. His father blamed health workers in the city of Lanzhou, who he said tried to stop him from taking his son to the hospital.
Internet users expressed anger over “zero COVID” and demanded that officials in Zhengzhou be punished for failing to help the public.
“Once again, someone died due to excessive epidemic prevention measures,” wrote a user on the popular Sina Weibo platform. “They put their official position above everything else.” At a news conference, a health official said the government is trying to deal with “simple and crude” over-compliance in response to public complaints.
The government has received 130,000 complaints, including from local officials improperly isolating visitors arriving from low-risk areas, according to the official, Shen Hongbing, deputy director of the National Office for Disease Control.
“We have fixed the problems reported by the masses,” Shen said. She did not mention the girl’s death in Zhengzhou.
A total of 1,659 cases were reported in Henan province, another hotspot where Zhengzhou is located.
Access to a Zhengzhou industrial area that is home to the world’s largest iPhone factory was suspended this month following outbreaks. Apple Inc. said deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model would be delayed.
The 4-month-old girl from Zhengzhou and her father were placed in quarantine on Saturday, according to media and social media reports.
A social media account that said it was written by the father, identified as Li Baoliang, said he began calling the emergency hotline at noon Monday after she suffered from vomiting and diarrhea. He said the hotline responded that the girl was not sick enough to need emergency care.
The account said that health workers at the quarantine site called an ambulance, but the crew refused to deal with them because the father had tested positive for the virus.
The girl finally made it to a hospital at 11 p.m. but died despite efforts to revive her, the account said.
The account attributed to the father complained that emergency hotline staff acted inappropriately, nearby hospitals were not ready to help, and the hospital where they ended up failing to provide “timely treatment” and gave him “grossly false” information.
“Epidemic prevention and control people, don’t you have a heart?” said another post on Sina Weibo.
The Zhengzhou city government said the incident was under investigation, according to media reports.
In the capital Beijing, access to elite Peking University was suspended on Wednesday. People who visited a vegetable market in the southeast of the city where a case was found were ordered to quarantine at a hotel at their own expense. Some shopping centers and office buildings have been closed.