COVID Lockdowns Spread in China Along With Public Irritation

BEIJING — Anti-virus controls that have shut down some of China’s biggest cities and fueled public irritation are spreading as infections rise, hurting a weak economy and prompting warnings of possible global shockwaves.

Shanghai will relax rules that once kept 25 million of its citizens in their homes because they complained about difficulties getting food. However, most businesses are still closed. The week saw the suspension of access to Guangzhou (an industrial hub with 19 million inhabitants near Hong Kong). Access to factories and schools is being blocked in other cities.

Nomura economists warned that the spring planting of Chinese farmers which feed over 1.4 million people could be affected. It could lead to increased demand for import wheat and other foods, which would push up already high prices.

The closures are an embarrassment to the ruling Communist Party and a setback for official efforts to shore up slumping growth in the world’s second-largest economy. The closures occur at a delicate year in which President Xi Jinping plans to challenge tradition and give himself a third five years term.

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Beijing has promised to reduce the human and economic cost of its “zero-COVID” strategy, but Xi on Wednesday ruled out joining the United States and other governments that are dropping restrictions and trying to live with the virus.

“Prevention and control work cannot be relaxed,” Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. “Persistence is victory.”

Ting Lu and Jing Wang of Nomura cautioned that China’s chances of entering recession are increasing.

“The logistics crunch is worsening,” they said. “The markets should also be concerned about the delayed spring planting of grain in China.”

According to the government, there were 29,411 additional cases reported Thursday. Only 3,020 of those with symptoms had been reported. Shanghai, with 95% or 27 719 cases, was the most populous city. Only 2,573 cases had symptoms.

A health official warned Wednesday that Shanghai didn’t have the virus under control despite its easing restrictions.

There were 6.6 million residents who could leave their home in an area that did not have any new cases within the last week. However, 15 million people are still banned from leaving their homes for at least one week.

Many people obeyed, despite complaining about food and medicine shortages or the inability to reach elderly loved ones who are suffering. However, videos posted on Sina Weibo show police engaging in some friendly exchanges.

Grape Chen in Shanghai is a data analyst. She said that she panicked about her father’s recovery from stroke and was anxious to get medicines. After receiving no reply from the official hotline, she called police. However, officers were told that quarantine regulations prohibit them from aiding her.

“We are willing to cooperate with the country,” Chen said. “But we also hope that our lives can be respected.”

Suzhou is a centre for high-tech manufacturing, and Suzhou’s city government advised its 18 million residents to return home as soon as possible.

The official China News Service reports that Taiyuan in central China is a blue-collar community of 4,000,000 people. They have suspended intercity bus service. Residents were forbidden from moving to Ningde, southeast China.

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Taiyuan’s restaurant owner said that their family is now in an apartment complex after several cases were reported in nearby compounds.

“Our lives will be seriously affected if the restrictions last long,” said the cook, who would give only his surname, Chen.

“My wife and I are earning nothing,” Chen said. “We have three children to support.”

All but 13 of China’s 100 biggest cities by economic output are under some form of restrictions, according to Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm.

“The intensity is increasing,” Gavekal said in a report this week.

The volume of cargo handled by the Shanghai port, the world’s busiest, has fallen 40%, according to an estimate by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. Due to interruptions in supplies, automakers stopped production.

Restrictions on areas that produce the world’s smartphones, consumer electronics and other goods are prompting forecasters to cut expectations for this year’s economic growth to as low as 5%, down sharply from last year’s 8.1% expansion.

The ruling party’s target is 5.5%. After tighter debt controls, which led to the collapse of construction and home sales, growth fell to 4.4% in the last quarter 2021. This is despite millions of people working in these industries.

The ruling party promised tax relief and assistance to entrepreneurs that create wealth and employment even before the shutdowns.

Premier Li Keqiang (the No. 2 leader and top economic official, called this week for “quicker rollout” of aid for businesses that face a “key juncture for survival,” China News Service reported.

Under a strategy dubbed “dynamic clearing,” authorities are trying to use more targeted measures to isolate neighborhoods instead of whole cities with populations bigger than some countries. Some local leaders, however, are more strict.

Shanghai officials were accused of trying to reduce economic harm by ordering testing. However, no shutdown was ordered after cases were discovered last month. A citywide shutdown was ordered with only a few hours’ warning after case numbers soared.

Contrary to Shenzhen (a finance and technology center that has 17.5 million residents near Hong Kong), which closed the city March 13 due to an outbreak. They ordered mass testing. The city was reopened one week later, and all business resumed normal.

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Guangzhou is now following Shenzhen’s lead. The city’s 19 million inhabitants were denied access Monday, and mass testing was required after the discovery of 27 infectious diseases.

Li Guanyu (a 31-year old woman from Guangzhou) said that residents cannot leave their apartment complex more than once a day for food shopping, but the stores are always well-stocked.

“This happened a bit suddenly,” said Li. “Maybe the Shanghai situation is so bad that Guangzhou started mass testing and lockdowns as soon as cases were discovered.”

Yu Bing (AP researcher in Beijing) and Chen Si (Shanghai), as well as Olivia Zhang, video producer in Beijing.

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