Protests, quarrels as China’s zero Covid policy takes its toll

By Lorena Cantó

Beijing, Mar 29 (EFE).- China’s strict zero tolerance approach to Covid-19 is starting take its toll on the population, prompting protests, squabbles with healthcare workers and reports of people going to great lengths to avoid mandatory isolation.

Until recently, the Asian giant kept the pandemic under control by effectively sealing off its borders and enforcing tough measures including obligatory hospitalization for all positive cases and state-monitored quarantines for asymptomatic patients and close contacts.

Beijing’s strategy paid off until the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus led to a spike in cases in several cities, including Shanghai and Shenzhen, which drove the number of people in isolation from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands.

A recent video shared on social media purportedly showed residents of a Shanghai apartment complex shouting “let us out” while there were tense scenes as locals stocked up ahead of a lockdown that began this week.

While this kind of material disappears quickly from China’s tightly-controlled social media, it has resurfaced on sites like Twitter and Facebook — both censored in the country — and offer a glimpse into the negative toll these harsh measures can have on society.

“The landlord tells me to pay the rent. The bank tells me to pay off the loan. The government tells me not to go to work and the neighborhood tells me not to go out. But where do I get the money? Nobody tells me that,” a widely shared message read on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China, read.

The detection of just one case can lead to the forced confinement of hundreds of people in a single residential building. In other cases, shopping malls and schools have been forced into lockdown until all contacts have undergone a PCR test.

Another video shared on social media allegedly shows local authorities trying to lock hundreds of customers in a Shenyang clothes market after a positive case was detected inside, prompting others to try to flee in order to avoid quarantine.

While PCR tests are readily available in urban areas, in rural settings things get more complicated and the population can be reticent to comply with protocol, as illustrated by a another recent video in which an elderly woman who starts beating a health worker with a cane as they try get ready to collect a sample.

China’s tough border controls entered their second year this week. The measure, which effectively bans non-resident foreigners from entering the country, has also affected the domestic population, especially those with relatives abroad.

Chinese nationals returning to China must observe a quarantine that could last several weeks.

China has reported 145,808 cases and 4,638 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to government data. EFE


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