Guangzhou eases restrictions despite worsening Covid epidemic

Guangzhou has partially lifted its weeks-long blockade, a stark contrast to China’s strict enforcement of its strict no-Covid policy despite the city of 18 million people suffering from a Covid-19 outbreak. -19 worst since the pandemic broke out.

Officials at the southern manufacturing hub on Wednesday eased restrictions on movement for about half of the city’s 11 districts, including Hai Chau, where migrant workers have been Clashes with police in the past month.

The easing of restrictions comes a day after Beijing blamed local authorities for its handling of the outbreaks that sparked protests across more than 20 cities.

“People on the street say we are free,” said William Zi, a resident of Haizhu. “I don’t know if the pandemic is over – it’s been 20 days at home so at least we’re free.”

Two people familiar with the decision said local officials’ announcement of the easing of lockdowns followed direct approval from Beijing. The timing of the measures, despite nearly 7,000 new cases reported on Wednesday, is seen as indicative of a broader shift in policy direction.

“I think they are testing it in Guangzhou to see if it works. . . Jin Dong-yan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said whether even if they conducted less mass testing and did not implement really strict lockdown measures, would Covid still be under control? or not.

“If it works, they can do the same thing in other Chinese cities.”

The easing sent stocks in Hong Kong higher as investors hoped for an exit from Xi Jinping’s Covid-free policy that has plagued sentiment in the world’s second-largest economy. .

Earlier on Wednesday, the US special envoy to China urged Mr. Xi’s administration not to interfere in peaceful protests just as a head of the Communist Party’s security service warned against “enemy” forces.

China was rocked by warnings about a deadly apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which was partly blamed on coronavirus restrictions, which evolved into protests against Xi’s Covid-free policy and state censorship.

“We believe that the Chinese people have the right to peacefully protest, they have the right to express their views, they have the right to be heard,” Ambassador Nicholas Burns said on a video call from Beijing with the Council of Foreign Affairs. Chicago Global Affairs on Wednesday.

“It is a fundamental right around the world — it should be — and that right should not be obstructed and not interfered with,” he said.

Chinese officials barely mentioned the protests, most of which appeared to have been quelled on Monday.

However, in a speech reported by state media on Tuesday night, Chen Wenqing, head of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, said the government must resolve disputes “in a timely manner”. time” while maintaining order.

“[We] must resolutely crack down on hostile forces’ infiltration and sabotage activities as well as illegal and criminal activities that disrupt social order,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Chen as saying. . “Social stability must be guaranteed.”

Since the fire in Urumqi last week, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has tracked more than 40 public protests across 22 Chinese cities, including four on Monday.

Experts have warned of brutal retaliation against an unidentified number of people detained over the weekend in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu. China’s criminal conviction rate is 99%, and the state is notorious for stamping out dissent.

Burns noted a “very tight security presence in Beijing and major Chinese cities”.

The pandemic, Burns added, has “really shut down normal life” and has cut back on normal diplomacy, including visits to check on the health and rights of Americans detained at home. this family.

“We have quite a few Americans in Chinese prisons. . . we haven’t been able to see most of the American prisoners here in the last three years,” he said.

There were more mixed signals on Wednesday, as while lockdowns eased in some areas, local officials in others tightened restrictions in response to a wave of infections. Covid.

In Zhengzhou, the central city where the world’s largest iPhone factory is located, officials lifted a citywide lockdown before adding new restrictions on dozens of “high-risk” areas. “a few hours later.

Meanwhile, state media in Beijing have published in-depth accounts of people’s experiences of contracting Covid, a nascent step towards normalizing the virus after three years of episodes. focus on its dangers.

Officials have also warned that the health care system is under strain amid rising cases, with the capital’s centralized quarantine capacity three-quarters full.

China reported 36,683 new locally transmitted cases on Wednesday, down slightly from the previous day’s total but much higher than the daily peak reported during a major outbreak in April. . The highest number of infections were reported in Chongqing and Guangdong provinces, with around 8,000 new infections each.

Additional reporting by William Langley, Ryan McMorrow and Hudson Lockett

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