China’s manufacturing hub Guangzhou partially locked down as Covid outbreak widens

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Hong Kong

China’s southern metropolis of Guangzhou has locked down more than 5 million residents, as authorities rush to stamp out a growing outbreak of Covid and avoid activating the kind of city-wide lockdown that devastated Shanghai earlier this year.

Guangzhou reported 2,555 local infections on Wednesday, accounting for nearly a third of new cases across China, that is experienced a six-month peak in infections across the country.

The city of 19 million has become the epicenter of the latest outbreak of Covid in China, recording more than 1,000 new cases – a relatively high figure by the country’s zero-Covid standards – for five straight days.

As the world moves away from the pandemic, China still insists on using snap locks, mass testing, extensive contact tracing and quarantines to stamp out infections as soon as they emerge. The zero tolerance approach has faced increasing challenge from the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and its heavy economic and social costs have attracted a growing public backlash.

The ongoing outbreak is the worst since the pandemic began to hit Guangzhou. The city is the capital of Guangdong province, which is a major economic powerhouse for China and a global manufacturing hub.

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Most cases in Guangzhou are centered in the Haizhu district – a mostly residential urban area of ​​1.8 million people on the south bank of the Pearl River. Haizhu was locked down last Saturday, with residents told not to leave home unless necessary and all public transport – from buses to subways – suspended. The lockdown was initially meant to last for three days, but has since been extended to Friday.

Two other areas – with a combined population of 3.8 million – were locked down on Wednesday as the outbreak expanded.

Residents of Liwan, an old area in the west of the city, woke up to an order to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. Colleges and universities in the area were told to close their campuses. Restaurant dining was banned and businesses were ordered to close, apart from those providing essential supplies.

On Wednesday afternoon, a third district, the remote Panyu, announced a lockdown that will last until Sunday. The district also banned private vehicles and bicycles from the streets.

Starting Thursday, all primary and middle schools in the city’s eight urban areas are moving classes online, with kindergartens closed. Tutoring classes, training institutes and day care centers will also suspend services, city education officials told a news conference Wednesday.

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Mass testing has been introduced in nine areas across the city, and more than 40 subway stations have been closed. Residents considered close contacts with infected people – which in China can range from neighbors to those living in the same building or even a residential compound – have been transferred en masse to central quarantine facilities.

The outbreak has also led to mass cancellations at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, one of the busiest in the country. As of Thursday morning, 85% of the nearly 1,000 flights arriving and departing Guangzhou had been cancelled, according to data from flight tracking company Variflight.

“Currently, there is still the risk of community spread in non-risk areas, and the cases remain serious and complex,” Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Guangzhou municipal health commission, told a news conference on Tuesday.

So far, the lockdown appears to be more targeted and less severe than those seen in many other cities. While residents living in neighborhoods designated as high-risk cannot leave home, those in low-risk areas known as lockdown areas can go out to buy groceries and other daily necessities.

But many fear a blanket, city-wide lockdown could be imminent if the outbreak continues to spread. On China’s super app WeChat, residents are sharing charts comparing Guangzhou’s surging caseload to Shanghai’s in late March, in the days before the eastern financial hub’s bruising two-month lockdown.

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Shanghai officials initially denied the need for a city-wide lockdown, but then installed one after the city reported 3,500 daily infections.

Anticipating worse to come, many Guangzhou residents have stocked up on food and other supplies. “I’ve been buying (groceries and snacks) online like crazy. I will probably end up eating leftovers for a month,” said one resident, whose area in Haizhu district was categorized as low risk by authorities.

Others, angered by the testing restrictions and edits, have taken to social media to vent their frustration. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, posts using slang and expletives in the local Cantonese dialect to criticize zero-Covid measures have proliferated, avoiding the eyes of largely incomprehensible online censors .

“I learn Cantonese curse words in real-time hot search every day,” said one Weibo user.

Meanwhile local authorities across the country are under pressure to step up Covid control measures despite growing public frustration.

This week, videos of Covid workers dressed head to toe in hazmat suits beating residents went viral online. Following a protest, police in Linyi city, Shandong province said in a statement on Tuesday that seven Covid workers were detained following clashes with residents.


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