According to videos and photos circulating on social media, people locked down due to COVID-19 in China’s southern manufacturing hub Guangzhou broke down barriers to keep them indoors, taking to the streets despite strictly enforced local orders.
Some images showed large crowds cheering and spilling over toppled fences and filling the streets after dark in the city’s Haizhu district, which has been under an increasingly strict lockdown since May 5. 11, is the epicenter of the city’s ongoing COVID outbreak.
The shrill sound of metal bars falling echoed throughout the neighborhood and mingled with cheers in the footage, which many social media users said took place Monday night in the streets of the county. .
In one video, COVID workers in protective medical gear can be seen standing on the sidelines as the barricades fall, while trying to talk to people on the street. “They’re rebelling,” a woman’s voice said in the background of one of the videos. CNN geolocated the images to the Haizhu district, but was unable to independently confirm them.
It is unclear how many people participated in the protest, or how long it lasted. Related posts were quickly removed from the Chinese internet by censors.
When CNN contacted the Haizhu district government office’s phone line, a telephone operator said the area remained “largely closed”.
When asked if protests have taken place in recent days, the moderator declined to answer.
The public protest – an extremely rare event in China, where the government tightly controls dissidents – appears to be another sign of public anger and despair. them to the government’s strict Covid-free policies.
The scenes in Guangzhou, which reported more than 5,100 new COVID cases on Tuesday – the majority were asymptomatic – come as Beijing’s relentless effort to quell the spread of the virus faces with questions of sustainability, amid rapidly spreading new variants.
INCREASE IN CASE
China is experiencing a surge in infections nationwide, this time fueled by simultaneous outbreaks in multiple cities, where control measures are pushing residents and local governments to the brink. .
On Tuesday, China’s National Health Commission reported more than 17,772 new COVID-19 cases across the country, the highest total since April 2021, with Guangzhou, a city of 19 million people, accounting for more than 1/4 of them.
Last week, the city locked down three districts including Hai Chau to prevent the spread, imposing a series of restrictions’ on people’s movement and business activities. That has been followed in recent days by additional measures on residential areas deemed “high risk”.
Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Guangzhou municipal health commission, told a news conference on Monday that “pandemic containment measures” would be “intensified” – referring to the lockdown – across the country. ministry of Liwan and Panyu counties, as well as other regions. of Haizhu and Yuexiu districts.
The rising number of cases and the accompanying control measures have led many residents across China to question the cost of the drastic measures the authorities use to quell cases, including how mandatory quarantine of people in close contact with Covid patients, mass testing and blockade of people who can see people. limited to their counties, neighborhoods, or apartments — sometimes for months.
Top officials in Beijing, including Chinese leader Xi Jinping, have pledged that these measures must be balanced with economic and social interests. Authorities last week revised the policy, including discouraging unnecessary mass testing and overzealously classifying restricted “high-risk” areas.
They also largely eliminated quarantining of secondary close contacts and reduced the time close contacts had to spend in central quarantine — all changes that officials insisted were not an extension of time. loose, but rather a fine-tuning of policy.
Those measures come as Mr. Xi prepares for a diplomatic week of summits in Southeast Asia, a signal that China is ready to return to the world stage, with Mr. Xi met in person with key Western leaders this month for the first time since the pandemic began.
But for citizens at home stuck in lockdown, recurring problems such as quick access to medical care or enough food and supplies, or loss of jobs and income. entered – again and again leads to hardship and tragedy, including many deaths believed to be related. delay in accessing medical care.
Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, where pictures show the protests at night, are home to some migrant workers living in crowded buildings in so-called “urban villages”.
Their plight could add to the difficulty of oppressive measures because the number of residents who actually need supplies in a given property may not be obvious to delivery officials. There is also no option to work remotely to maintain income for those working in factories and construction sites.
In messages shared on social media, observers noted hearing Haizhu residents from outside Guangzhou begging for help from officials such as rent compensation and providing free housing. fee.
In a video that went viral on social media, one man could be heard shouting “We Hubei people want to eat! We Hubei people want to be unsealed!” refers to another province in China where many migrant workers in the district come from. He was part of a crowd gathered to face a COVID worker in a hazmat suit.
In a separate clip from the same scene, another man asks the workers, “If your parents were sick, how would you feel? If your children had a fever and were not discharged (to the hospital) hospital), how would you feel?” “
In another video, people can be heard shouting their frustration and despair at a man who identifies himself as a neighborhood manager and says he wants to address their concerns. . One resident hurriedly said that because they were not local residents, they had to queue for hours to be tested for COVID-19 and that the meat sold by the government had spoiled, while they could not contact the road. local support hotline.
“No one comes to explain and the community office line is always busy. And our landlord doesn’t care if we live or die. What do we do?” said the people, while other members of the crowd began to shout together: “Open the seal! Unseal!”
During the city’s press conference on Monday, a Haizhu district official acknowledged criticism that the restrictions could have been announced earlier and more clearly about the areas affected by the measures. .
“We have also recognized many of our shortcomings,” said Su Mingqing, deputy head of Haizhu district.