China’s manufacturing hub Guangzhou partially locked down as Covid outbreak widens

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-weekly update that explores what to know about the country’s rise and how it affects the world. Register here.


Hong Kong
CNN

The southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou has locked down a third district as authorities rush to end a widening Covid outbreak and avoid triggering the kind of city-wide lockdown that devastated Shanghai in beginning of the year

Guangzhou reported 2,637 local infections on Tuesday, accounting for nearly a third of new cases across China, which is experiencing a maximum of six months of infections throughout 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 number by the country’s zero-Covid standards, for four straight days.

As the world moves away from the pandemic, China still insists on using rapid lockdowns, mass testing, extensive contact tracing and quarantines to stamp out infections as soon as they emerge. The zero-tolerance approach has faced increasing challenges from the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and its high economic and social costs have led to a growing public backlash.

The ongoing outbreak is the worst since the start of the pandemic that has hit Guangzhou. The city is the capital of Guangdong Province, which is a major economic powerhouse for China and a global manufacturing hub.

Most of the cases in Guangzhou have been centered in Haizhu District, a mainly residential urban district on the south bank of the Pearl River. Haizhu was locked down 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 three days, but has since been extended until Friday.

Two more districts were closed on Wednesday as the outbreak widened.

Residents of Liwan, an old neighborhood in the west of the city, woke up to an order to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. Colleges and universities in the district were asked to close their campuses, with all schools moving classes online and daycares closed. Restaurant dining was banned and businesses, other than those providing essential supplies, were ordered to close.

On Wednesday afternoon, a third district, outlying Panyu, announced a lockdown that will last until Sunday. The district also banned private vehicles and bicycles from the streets.

Mass testing has been carried out in nine districts of the city and more than 40 metro stations have been closed. Residents consider close contacts of infected people, which in China can range from neighbors to those who live in the same building or even residential complexes – have moved en masse to centralized quarantine facilities.

“At present, there is still the risk of community spread in non-risk areas, and the outbreak remains serious and complex,” Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Guangzhou Municipal Health Commission, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

So far, the lockdown seems more targeted and less draconian than what has been seen in many other cities. While residents living in neighborhoods designated as high-risk cannot leave their homes, those in so-called low-risk areas within the gated districts can go out to buy groceries and other daily necessities.

But many fear a city-wide lockdown is imminent if the outbreak continues to spread. On WeChat, China’s super app, residents are sharing charts comparing Guangzhou’s growing caseload to Shanghai’s in late March, days before the eastern financial hub’s two-month lockdown.

Shanghai officials initially denied that a city-wide lockdown was necessary, but then one was imposed after the city reported 3,500 daily infections.

Anticipating the worst to come, many residents in Guangzhou have stocked up on food and other supplies. “I’ve been buying (groceries and snacks) online like crazy. I’ll probably end up eating leftovers for a month,” said one resident, the area of ​​Haizhu district listed as low-risk by authorities.

Others, angered by the testing restrictions and edicts, have taken to social media to vent their frustration. Posts using slang and expletives in the local Cantonese dialect to criticize zero-Covid measures have proliferated on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, apparently largely evading the prying eyes of online censors who don’t understand.

“I learn Cantonese curse words in real-time search every day,” said one Weibo user.

Meanwhile, local authorities across the country are under pressure to step up Covid control measures despite growing public frustration.

This week, videos of Covid workers dressed head to toe in hazmat suits beating residents have gone viral online. After an outcry, police in Linyi city, Shandong province, said in a statement on Tuesday that seven Covid workers had been arrested after a clash with residents.

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