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Guangzhou eases restrictions despite worsening Covid epidemic

Guangzhou eases restrictions despite worsening Covid epidemic
Written by boustamohamed31

Guangzhou partially lifted a weeks-long lockdown, a departure from strict enforcement of China’s strict zero-Covid policy, even as the city of 18 million people suffers the worst outbreak of Covid-19 since the pandemic broke out.

Officials in the southern manufacturing hub on Wednesday eased traffic restrictions in about half of the city’s 11 districts, including Haiju, where migrant workers have clashed with police in the past month.

The easing of restrictions came a day after Beijing blamed local governments for their handling of outbreaks that sparked protests in more than 20 cities.

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

The announcement by local authorities to ease the lockdown followed a direct endorsement from Beijing, two people familiar with the decision said. The timing of the measures, coming despite nearly 7,000 new cases being reported on Wednesday, is seen as an indication of a broader shift in policy direction.

“I think they are doing a trial here in Guangzhou to see if it works. . . whether they even do less mass testing and don’t implement really strict lockdowns, whether Covid can still be brought under control,” said Jin Dong-yan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong.

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

The easing lifted shares in Hong Kong as investors hoped to ride out Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy that has rocked sentiment in the world’s second-largest economy.

Earlier on Wednesday, the US envoy to China urged the Xi administration not to interfere with peaceful demonstrations, just as a Communist Party security chief warned against “hostile” forces.

China was rocked by vigils over a deadly apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which was partly blamed on coronavirus-related restrictions that escalated into demonstrations against Xi’s zero-Covid policy and state censorship.

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

“This is a fundamental right in the world – it should be – and this right should not be impeded and should not be interfered with,” he said.

Chinese officials barely mentioned the protests, most of which appeared to have been quelled by 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 should resolve the disputes “timely” while maintaining order.

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

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

Experts warned of a brutal crackdown on an unknown number of people detained over the weekend in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu. China’s conviction rate is 99 percent, and the state is notorious for suppressing dissent.

Burns noted “a very strong security presence here in Beijing and in the major cities of China.”

The pandemic, Burns added, has “really shut down normal life” and curtailed normal diplomatic activity, including visits to check on the health and rights of Americans detained in the country.

“We have quite a few Americans in prisons in China. . . 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 authorities in others tightened restrictions in response to a wave of Covid infections.

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

Meanwhile, state-linked media in Beijing published in-depth accounts of people’s experiences of Covid infection, a new step towards normalizing the virus after three years of focusing on its dangers.

Officials have also warned that the health system is strained amid the surge in cases, with the capital’s centralized quarantine capacity three-quarters full.

China reported 36,683 new locally transmitted cases on Wednesday, slightly less than the previous day’s total but well above the peak daily cases reported during a major outbreak in April. The largest number of cases were reported in Chongqing and Guangdong province, with about 8,000 new cases each.

Additional reporting by William Langley, Ryan McMorrow and Hudson Lockett

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