BEIJING, Nov 25 (Reuters) – Frustration simmered in China among residents and business groups navigating tighter COVID-19 control curbs as the country on Friday reported another historic peak in daily infections just weeks after the raised hopes of relief.
The resurgence of COVID cases in China, with 32,695 new local infections recorded for Thursday as several cities report outbreaks, has prompted widespread shutdowns and other restrictions on movement and business, as well as pushback.
The French Chamber of Commerce in China urged authorities to properly implement the COVID “optimization measures” it announced two weeks ago in a statement widely shared on social media after the French embassy posted it on its Twitter-like Weibo account on Thursday.
The 20 measures, which include shortened quarantines and other more targeted steps, had “given hope” to French companies for more bilateral trade and economic exchange, but “good policies must also be implemented in a uniform way and without adding layers of other conflicting policies “, the chamber’s statement says.
The announcement of the 20 measures, just as rising cases prompted an increasingly heavy-handed response under China’s strict zero-Covid approach, has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in major cities, including Beijing, where many residents are confined at home.
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References to a speech by a man in the southwestern city of Chongqing, who called on the government to admit its mistakes regarding COVID, were shared widely on Chinese social media despite the work of censors.
“Give me freedom or death,” the bespectacled man told bystanders at the gate of a compound in an impassioned speech on Thursday, according to videos seen by Reuters.
“There is only one disease in the world, and that is to be both poor and not have freedom,” he added. “We’ve now got both. We’re still fighting and suffering from a bit of a cold.”
The man was later seen being tied to a police car by security personnel, prompting angry shouts from onlookers.
Hashtags related to the man, who netizens have dubbed “Chongqing’s superman brother” or “Chongqing hero”, were censored on Friday. But individual users continued to show support by posting subtle messages or cartoon pictures of him.
As shutdowns affect more people, some residents are suggesting alternative approaches for their communities. In Beijing, residents in some connections on WeChat shared suggestions on how infected neighbors could quarantine at home if they did not show severe symptoms.
It is not clear whether such proposals will succeed.
Notices outlining the circumstances under which health workers can remove a person from their home, with the aim of informing people of their rights if asked to be taken to a quarantine centre, were also circulated online.
Oxford Economics senior economist Louise Loo said in a note that reports of public discontent across provinces in partial or full lockdowns have picked up, as they did during the last major outbreak in April, although these “do not yet reflect large-scale collective action “.
“As before, we expect officials to be able to respond quickly to contain the social risk of escalating protests, either through a combination of heavier information controls or with piecemeal easing of restrictions,” Loo said.
Although the April outbreak was concentrated in Shanghai, clusters of cases this time are numerous and widespread.
The southern city of Guangzhou and southwestern Chongqing have recorded the bulk of the cases, although hundreds of new infections have been reported daily in cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, Jinan, Lanzhou, Xian and Wuhan.
Guangzhou, a southern city of nearly 19 million people, reported 7,524 new locally transmitted cases, while Chongqing reported 6,500 cases.
Beijing reported 1,860 cases on Thursday, while the northern city of Shijiazhuang saw a quadrupling.
Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Shanghai and Beijing editors; Writing by Bernard Orr and Liz Lee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Gerry Doyle and Tony Munroe
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