China’s Guangzhou manufacturing hub partially shut down as Covid outbreak spreads
Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s “Same Time in China,” a three-weekly newsletter that examines what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it’s affecting the world. Register here.
The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou has locked down a third district as authorities rush to contain the widening Covid outbreak and avoid reviving the city-wide lockdown that ravaged Shanghai earlier this year.
Guangzhou reported 2,637 local infections on Tuesday, accounting for nearly a third of China’s new cases. experiencing a six-month high of infections across the country.
The city of 19 million has become the epicenter of China’s latest Covid outbreak, registering more than 1,000 new cases, a relatively high figure by the country’s zero-Covid standards, four in a row.
As the world recovers from the pandemic, China still insists on using emergency lockdowns, mass testing, extensive contact tracing and quarantines to stamp out infections as they emerge. The zero-tolerance approach has faced a growing challenge from the highly transmitted Omicron variant, and its heavy economic and social costs have prompted a growing public backlash.
The ongoing outbreak is the worst since the outbreak hit Guangzhou. The city is the capital of Guangdong Province, a major economic powerhouse for China and a global manufacturing hub.
In Guangzhou, most cases are concentrated in Haizhou District, a predominantly residential urban area on the south bank of the Pearl River. Haizhu was put on lockdown last Saturday, with residents told not to leave their homes unless necessary, and all public transport, from buses to the subway, suspended. The lockdown was originally supposed to last for three days, but has since been extended until Friday.
Two more counties were put on lockdown Wednesday as the outbreak expanded.
Residents of Lebanon, an old district in the west of the city, woke up to orders to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. Colleges and universities in the area have been told to close their campuses, all schools are moving classes online and day care centers are closing. Restaurant dining has been banned and businesses have been ordered to close except for those providing essential items.
On Wednesday afternoon, the third district, suburban Panyu, announced a lockdown that will last until Sunday. The district also banned private vehicles and bicycles from the streets.
Mass tests were conducted in nine districts of the city and more than 40 metro stations were closed. Residents are considered close contacts of the infected, which in China can range from neighbors to people living in the same building or even residential complexes – moved en masse to centralized quarantine facilities.
“Currently, there is still a risk of community spread in non-risk areas, and the outbreak remains severe and complex,” Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Guangzhou Municipal Health Commission, told a news conference on Tuesday.
So far, the lockdown appears to be more targeted and less drastic than those seen in many other cities. While residents living in designated high-risk neighborhoods cannot leave their homes, those in locked neighborhoods in so-called low-risk zones can go out to buy groceries and other daily necessities.
But many fear a blanket, city-wide lockdown may be inevitable if the outbreak continues to spread. On WeChat, China’s super app, residents have been sharing charts comparing Guangzhou’s surge in cases to Shanghai’s in late March, just days before the eastern financial hub’s two-month lockdown.
Shanghai officials initially denied a city-wide lockdown was necessary. but then one was imposed after the city reported 3,500 daily infections.
Expecting worse to come, many residents of Guangzhou have stockpiled food and other supplies. “I buy (groceries and snacks) online like crazy. I’ll probably eat leftovers within a month,” said one of the residents, whose area in Haizhou district has been classified as low-risk by the authorities.
Others, angered by the restrictions and testing mandates, have taken to social media to vent their frustration. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, local Cantonese slang and expressions used to criticize zero-Covid measures have been circulating, apparently largely escaping the eyes of online censors who don’t get it.
“I learn Cantonese curse words every day through real-time hot search,” said one Weibo user.
Meanwhile, local authorities across the country are under pressure to step up Covid control measures despite growing public frustration.
Videos of Covid workers wearing head-to-toe hazmat suits beating residents went viral online this week. After the protest, the police in Linyi, Shandong Province announced statement On Tuesday, seven Covid workers were arrested after clashes with residents.
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