According to video and images circulating on social media, residents under Covid lockdown in the southern Chinese manufacturing hub of Guangzhou have torn down barriers meant to confine them to their homes, taking to the streets in defiance of local orders strictly applied.
Some of the images show large crowds cheering and surging through toppled barriers and filling streets after dark in the city’s Haizhu district, which has been under an increasingly restrictive lockdown since Nov. 5 as the epicenter of the outbreak of Covid in progress in the city.
The clanging sound of falling metal barriers echoed through the neighborhood and mixed with cheers in the footage, in scenes that several social media users said took place on the streets of the district on Monday evening.
In one video, Covid workers in protective medical gear can be seen standing on the sidelines as barriers fall as they try to talk to people on the street. “They are revolted,” a woman’s voice is heard in the background of one of the videos. CNN has geolocated the images to Haizhu District, but has not been able to independently confirm them.
It is not clear how many people participated in the protest, or how long it lasted. Censors quickly removed related posts from the Chinese Internet.
When CNN reached the phone line of the Haizhu district government office, a phone operator said the area was still “largely closed off.”
When asked if there have been protests in recent days, the operator declined to answer.
The public protest, an extremely rare event in China, where authorities maintain a tight grip on dissent, appears to be yet another sign of growing public anger and despair over the government’s strict zero-Covid policies.
The scenes in Guangzhou, which reported more than 5,100 new Covid cases on Tuesday, the vast majority asymptomatic, come as Beijing’s relentless push to stamp out the spread of the virus faces questions of sustainability, amid new variants of rapid spread.
China is experiencing a surge in infections across the country, this time fueled by simultaneous outbreaks in several cities, where containment measures are stretching residents and local authorities to the limit.
On Tuesday, China’s National Health Commission reported more than 17,772 new Covid cases nationwide, its highest total since April 2021, with Guangzhou, a city of 19 million, accounting for more than a quarter.
Last week, the city locked down three districts, including Haizhu, to try to slow the spread, imposing a series of restrictions on residents’ movements and business activity. This was followed in recent days by additional measures in designated “high-risk” neighborhoods.
Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Guangzhou Municipal Health Commission, told a news conference on Monday that “pandemic containment measures” will be “enhanced” – a veiled reference to lockdowns – in all of Liwan’s districts and Panyu, as well as parts of Haizhu. and Yuexiu districts.
The surge in cases and accompanying controls have prompted more residents across China to question the costs of the brute-force measures used by authorities to stamp out cases, including mandatory quarantine of close contacts of Covid patients, mass testing and lockdowns that people can see. confined to their districts, neighborhoods or apartments, sometimes for months.
Senior officials in Beijing, including Chinese leader Xi Jinping, have pledged that the measures must be balanced with economic and social interests. Authorities overhauled the policy last week, including discouraging unnecessary mass testing and overzealous classification of restricted “high risk” areas.
They also largely scrapped the quarantine of secondary close contacts and reduced the time that close contacts must spend in central quarantine — all changes officials insist are not a relaxation but a refinement of the policy.
The moves came as Xi prepared for a week of diplomacy attending Southeast Asian summits in a sign that China was ready to return to the world stage, with Xi meeting in person with Western leaders key this month for the first time since the pandemic began.
But for citizens at home who are stuck in the lockdown, recurring problems such as access to prompt medical care or sufficient food and supplies, or loss of jobs and income, have repeatedly led to hardship and tragedy, including numerous deaths believed to be related to delayed access to medical care.
Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, where footage showed nightly protests, is home to a number of migrant workers who live in densely packed buildings in areas known as “urban villages”.
Their circumstances can compound the difficulties of oppressive measures, as the actual number of residents in need of supplies in a block of flats can be unclear to officials delivering goods. There is also no telecommuting option to preserve the income of employees in factories and construction sites.
In messages shared on social media, observers noted hearing Haizhu residents originally from outside Guangzhou asking officials for help, such as rent compensation and free supplies.
In a video circulating on social media, a man can be heard shouting “The people of Hubei want to eat! We, the people of Hubei, want to be despised!” referring to another province in China, where many of the district’s migrant workers come from. He is part of a crowd that has gathered in front of Covid workers wearing hazmat suits.
In a separate clip from the same scene, another man asks the workers: “If your parents got sick, how would you feel?” If your children have a fever and are prevented from going (to the hospital), how do you feel?”
People can be heard in another video calling out their frustrations and despair to a man who identifies himself as the neighborhood manager and says he wants to address their concerns. One resident is quick to say that as non-local residents, they are made to queue for hours for Covid-19 tests and the meat sold to them by the government has gone bad, while they cannot access the lines of local assistance
“No one has come to explain it and the community office line is always busy. And our owner does not care whether we live or die. What should we do?” says the resident, as other members of the crowd begin to shout together, “Get out! Unseal!”
At the city’s press conference on Monday, a Haizhu district official acknowledged criticism that the restrictions could have been announced earlier and more clearly on areas affected by the measures.
“We have also realized many of our shortcomings,” said Su Mingqing, deputy head of Haizhu District.