BEIJING, Nov 27 (The Straits Times/ANN): China has signalled that it will stick with its longstanding zero-Covid-19 policy despite mass protests breaking out across the country over harsh containment measures.
In a front-page editorial on Sunday, the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said China would “unwaveringly persist” in its Covid-19 policies and that “victory will be attained only by persisting to the end”.
The editorial, bylined Zhongyin - which stands for voice of the party centre - stressed correcting wrong attitudes including “underestimating the problem, indifference and self-righteousness”.
“We must resolutely overcome numb-thinking, war-weariness, wishful thinking and a lax mentality,” it said.
The People’s Daily article continued to espouse: “Our prevention and control policies can stand the test of history, our prevention and control measures are scientific and effective. They are the most economical and effective. There is no doubt about this, and we should have full confidence in this.”
But after almost three years of the pandemic, many Chinese are fed-up with current Covid-19 policies, which have battered the economy and left many cooped up at home and unable to work.
Since late last week, mass demonstrations have broken out in cities including Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Urumqi and others.
On Sunday, protests broke out in Shanghai after an apartment fire killed 10 and injured nine people three days earlier in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region.
The local government has denied that evacuation of residents was affected by lockdown measures, repudiating widely circulated videos that showed firefighting efforts hampered by lockdown measures in the city.
Following the fire, Urumqi officials have also said that they would resume local transportation from Monday, lifting a months-long lockdown.
The case has proved to be a rallying point for those angry over the draconian measures employed to keep people at home.
“Lift lockdown for Urumqi, lift lockdown for Xinjiang, lift lockdown for all of China,” chanted a crowd in Shanghai, according to a video on social media.
In a rare instance of public protest against the Chinese leadership, a video also showed a group shouting: “Down with the Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping!”
But it is unlikely to cause Beijing to change course, said Associate Professor Alfred Wu from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
“The government’s policy priority is very clear: regime stability is number one,” said Prof Wu, pointing to state media’s latest editorials and signals from the party congress in October.
“From the state, from the government’s perspective, the only solution now is to crackdown on these protests.”
The Chinese authorities are in a bind because protests are coming at a time when cases are surging because of the highly infectious Omicron variant, meaning harsher lockdown measures would be required to get a grip on infections.
Nationwide case counts reached 39,791 on Saturday, hitting a record high for a fourth day in a row. There was also another death, bringing total fatalities to 5,233.
In places such as the Chinese capital, which reported 4,307 cases on Friday, local community officials seem to be struggling with the burgeoning caseload.
These officials say infections are being picked up at such a rate, yet higher levels of government seem to be unable to keep up with the issuing of the official documentation needed to enforce measures such as sealing off buildings. This means it could be days after cases are picked up before buildings are officially locked down.
In some housing communities, people have questioned local officials over the legal basis of lockdown measures and defy requests to stay home, city residents told The Straits Times.
In a bid to make sure residents stay put at home, some community officials have resorted to bolting building doors shut, as Mr Bernie Lee found out.
The 36-year-old media practitioner said the main door to his housing tower was chained shut on Sunday morning, and the lock was only removed after residents complained and called the police.
“I was horrified. This is a fire hazard. What happens if there is an emergency? There are heavily pregnant women in our building. A lock like this is not something you can just pull apart,” he said. - The Straits Times/ANN