Authorities in the Chinese city of Guangzhou eased Covid restrictions a day after protesters in the southern city clashed with police amid a series of protests against Beijing’s strict measures to control the coronavirus epidemic.
China has imposed widespread lockdowns and travel restrictions, and conducted mass testing as part of its “zero COVID” policy, which is drawing increasing outrage. COVID restrictions have been eased in most parts of the world.
The protests, which stretched over the weekend in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere, have become a challenge to the public not seen since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
The southwestern city of Chongqing will allow close contacts with the COVID-19 virus, who meet certain conditions, to be quarantined at home, a city official said Wednesday.
But with a record number of cases nationwide, a major shift in the “zero COVID” policy that President Xi says has saved lives seems unlikely.
Al Jazeera correspondent Patrick Fok in Hong Kong said the protests had turned violent in Guangzhou, which was hit hard by the latest wave of infections.
“The disturbances indicate an escalation in the movement, which has spread to several major cities,” Phok said.
“The latest developments come despite stern warnings against participating in protests,” he said, adding that China’s top security agency called for a crackdown on what it described as “hostile forces.”
However, it is unclear who or what the government is referring to, Phoke said, and has yet to provide evidence of any outside interference.
Some protesters and foreign security experts believe the death on Wednesday of former President Jiang Zemin, who ushered the country into a decade of rapid economic growth after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, may become a new rallying point for protests three years after the pandemic began.
Jiang’s legacy has been discussed in the protesters’ Telegram groups, with some saying he gave them a legitimate reason to rally.
sign of weakness
The China Descent Monitor, run by the US government-funded Freedom House, estimated that at least 27 protests occurred across China from Saturday to Monday. Australian think tank ASPI estimated 43 protests in 22 cities.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that people in all countries should be able to “vent out their frustrations” through peaceful protest.
“In any country where we see this happen and then we see the government take massive repressive measures to stop it, that’s not a sign of strength, it’s a sign of weakness,” Blinken said.
In addition to easing restrictions in Guangzhou and Chongqing, officials said in Zhengzhou, the site of Foxconn’s main factory that makes Apple iPhones that has been the scene of worker unrest due to the novel coronavirus, an “orderly” resumption of business, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.
Earlier, national health officials said that China would respond to “urgent concerns” raised by the public and that COVID rules should be implemented more flexibly.
COVID has spread even though China has largely cut itself off from the world and demanded sacrifices of hundreds of millions to comply with testing and relentless isolation.
While the number of infections and deaths is low by global standards, analysts said reopening the door before vaccination rates increase could lead to disease and death.
The lockdown has hurt the economy, disrupted global supply chains and rattled financial markets.
Data on Wednesday showed that China’s manufacturing and services activity for November posted the lowest readings since Shanghai’s two-month lockdown began in April.