Frustration simmered Friday among residents and business groups in China navigating tighter COVID-19 control restrictions as the country reported another record high of daily infections just weeks after hopes of easing coronavirus pandemic had been raised. measures.
The resurgence of COVID cases in China, with 32,695 new local infections recorded on Thursday as numerous cities reported outbreaks, has led to widespread lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and business, as well as pushbacks.
China’s response to COVID is taking an increasing toll on the world’s second-largest economy, and on Friday its central bank made a widely expected supportive move, cutting the amount of cash banks must hold as reserves. This frees up 500 billion yuan ($69.8 billion) in long-term liquidity.
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The French Chamber of Commerce in China urged authorities to properly implement the COVID “optimization” measures announced two weeks ago, in a statement shared widely on social media after the French embassy posted it on its Weibo account. similar to Twitter on Thursday.
The 20 measures, which include shorter quarantines and other more targeted steps, had “given hope” to French companies for more bilateral trade and economic exchanges, but “good policies must also be implemented uniformly and without adding layers of other contradictions.” “. policies,” says the chamber’s statement.
The announcement of the 20 measures, just as rising cases sparked an increasingly strong response under China’s strict zero-COVID approach, has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, where many residents are in lockdown. in their homes.
China defends President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy as a lifeline and necessary to avoid overwhelming the health system.
Many analysts expect a significant easing of coronavirus restrictions only starting in March or April at the earliest, with some experts warning that China must significantly increase vaccinations and change its messaging in a country where fear of COVID runs high.
A move towards living with COVID in the medium term would be difficult, said Rob Carnell, a Singapore-based economist at ING.
“Once you start to move away from the really draconian approach, it just spirals quickly,” he said.
“I’m still not sure they’re ready to take that hit,” he said, referring to the large number of people who get sick or die. “And until they are, they’re going to be struggling with this.”
At the world’s largest iPhone factory in the central city of Zhengzhou, more than 20,000 new hires have left after COVID-related labor unrest this week, further jeopardizing production at the iPhone provider’s plant. Apple Foxconn there, Reuters reported.
References to a speech by a man in the southwestern city of Chongqing calling on the government to admit its mistakes on COVID were widely shared on Chinese social media.
“Give me freedom or death,” the bespectacled man told residents in an impassioned speech on Thursday, according to video seen by Reuters.
“There is only one disease in the world and it is to be poor and not have freedom,” he added. “Now we have both. We’re still fighting and suffering from a little cold.”
Security personnel were later seen pushing the man towards a police car, prompting angry shouts from onlookers.
Hashtags related to the man, whom netizens have called “Chongqing superman brother” or “Chongqing hero”, were censored on Friday. But individual users continued to show support for him by posting subtle messages or cartoon images of him.
As lockdowns affect more people, some are proposing alternative approaches. In Beijing, residents of some compounds shared proposals on WeChat on how infected neighbors could self-quarantine at home if they were not showing severe symptoms.
It is not clear if such initiatives would be successful.
Notices listing the circumstances in which health workers can remove a person from their home were also distributed online, in order to educate people about their rights if they are asked to take them to a quarantine facility. .
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Oxford Economics senior economist Louise Loo said reports of public dissatisfaction in provinces with partial or full lockdowns have gained momentum, as was the case during the last major outbreak in April, although these “do not yet reflect collective action.” on a large scale.”
“As before, we hope that officials can respond quickly to stem the social risk of escalating protests, either through a combination of tighter information controls or a gradual relaxation of restrictions,” Loo wrote.
Although the April outbreak was concentrated in Shanghai, this time the clusters of cases are numerous and scattered.
The southern city of Guangzhou and southwestern Chongqing recorded the lion’s share of cases, while cities including Chengdu, Jinan, Lanzhou, Xian and Wuhan reported hundreds of new infections daily. Beijing reported 1,860 cases for Thursday.
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In the east, Nanjing in Jiangsu province said it would carry out mass tests for five straight days starting Saturday, the latest city to announce such plans.