Tighter COVID-19 Restrictions Possible for Beijing

s Beijing’s Covid-19 outbreak drags on, the country’s top official overseeing pandemic control has shifted her attention from Shanghai’s ebbing crisis to the capital, raising pressure on local authorities to contain spread and potentially signaling harsher curbs to come.

Sun Chunlan, China’s Vice Premier and health czar whose appearance at virus hotspots across the country reflects the central government’s priorities, on Monday urged officials in Beijing to eradicate community spread more swiftly and implement more thorough measures adhering to the Covid Zero approach. She inspected the latest areas hit by the virus, including regions in the Haidian district that house China’s top universities, according to state media reports.

Sun’s trip to Beijing, after being based in Shanghai for the past month, is a sign the government is losing patience with the outbreak. Monday’s 48 cases were reported in capital. That was down from Sunday’s 99, which was the peak daily count for the current epidemic. While the numbers are still small, the city has been recording dozens of cases a day for almost a month, suggesting that mass-testing drives and a variety of measures such as work-from-home orders in some districts haven’t been enough to stamp out the spread.

Learn More What Beijing’s COVID-19 Lockdown Could Mean For China and the World

The inability to eliminate Beijing’s outbreak underscores the challenges of China’s strict Covid Zero approach, with the unprecedented shutdown of Shanghai providing a cautionary tale of how early mistakes could lead to rapid spread. In the face of high-transmissible variants of the virus, the strategy has been controversial. This leaves the country isolated, and in conflict with the rest the world.

The economic and social costs of containing Covid have been severe. In the latest move to prop up the economy, the government will offer more than 140 billion yuan ($21 billion) in additional tax relief mainly aimed at businesses as it seeks to offset the heavy impact of coronavirus lockdowns on the world’s second-largest economy.

The measures include additional tax rebates to companies and cuts of 60 billion yuan on passenger-car taxes, China National Radio reported, citing a decision from a meeting of China’s State Council, a top government body chaired by Premier Li Keqiang.

Sun is its only female vice prime minister and the only woman among the powerful Politburo’s 25 members. At 72 years of age, she will likely retire after a leadership reshuffle later this year, yet she has become the most visible face of China’s unyielding zero-tolerance virus strategy. After spending 100 days in Wuhan, the original virus epicenter in early 2020, Sun has visited every place in mainland China facing a serious outbreak in the past two years, from Xi’an to Jilin, and helped oversee Hong Kong’s deadly virus surge.

Social media posts joke that lockdowns follow wherever Sun goes; indeed there’s been a pattern of stricter containment efforts after her visits, during which she invariably delivers a message urging local officials to act more boldly in adherence to Covid Zero.

Beijing is experiencing an increase in the number of curfews. After multiple cases of infection were discovered in their residence, officials moved over 1,800 people to the centralized quarantine located in Hebei province. Global Times reports the relocation of the residents to Zhangjiakou which hosts some events during the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Learn More Shanghai’s COVID-19 Lockdown Pushes Residents to the Brink

China’s Monday infection report was 639, down from 802. For the first time in March, there are now less than 1,000 infections reported across China. This is down from almost 35,000 on April 13.

Tianjin is a border city to Beijing and has 18 more local infections than Sunday’s 47. Shanghai saw 480 new infections, as opposed to 558 cases Sunday. Outside of financial hub government quarantine, no new infections were reported.

Shanghai officially eased the lockdown which kept 25 million people inside for two months. However, hundreds of volunteers from grassroots are still keeping many residents in their housing compound.

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