Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s news bulletin Meanwhile in China, a tri-weekly update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and its impact on the world. Register here.
Southern China’s metropolis Guangzhou has locked down more than 5 million people as authorities race to stamp out a growing Covid outbreak and avoid activating the kind of citywide lockdown that will devastated Shanghai earlier this year.
Guangzhou reported 3,007 local infections on Wednesday, accounting for more than a third of new cases across China, which is has been experiencing a six-month spike in infections across the country.
The city of 19 million has become the epicenter of China’s latest Covid outbreak, recording more than 1,000 new cases – a relatively high figure by the country’s zero-Covid standards – for five consecutive days.
As the world moves away from the pandemic, China still insists on using instant lockdowns, mass testing, extensive contact tracing and quarantines to eradicate infections as soon as they emerge. The zero-tolerance approach has faced increasing challenge from the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, and its heavy economic and social costs have drawn growing public backlash.
The ongoing outbreak is the worst since the start of the pandemic to hit Guangzhou. The city is the capital of Guangdong Province, which is a major economic powerhouse for China and a global manufacturing hub.
Most cases in Guangzhou have been concentrated in the Haizhu district – a mainly residential urban district of 1.8 million people on the south bank of the Pearl River. Haizhu was locked down last Saturday, with residents ordered not to leave their homes unless necessary and all public transport – from buses to the subway – suspended. The lockdown was originally supposed to last three days, but has since been extended to Friday.
On Wednesday, two more districts – with a combined population of 3.8 million – were locked down as the outbreak spread.
Residents of Liwan, a former district in the west of the city, have been ordered to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. Colleges and universities in the district have been ordered to lock down their campuses. Restaurant dining has been banned and businesses have been ordered to close except for those providing essential supplies.
On Wednesday afternoon, a third district, the outskirts of Panyu, announced a lockdown that will last until Sunday. The district has also banned private vehicles and bicycles from the streets.
From Thursday, all primary and secondary schools in the city’s eight urban districts are moving class online, with kindergartens closed. Tutoring classes, training institutions and child care centers will also suspend services, city education officials said at a press conference Wednesday.
Mass testing has been rolled out in nine districts of the city, and more than 40 metro stations have been closed. Residents considered close contacts of infected people – which in China can range from neighbors to those who live in the same building or even residential compounds – have been moved en masse to centralized quarantine facilities.
The outbreak has also led to mass cancellations at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, one of the country’s busiest. As of Thursday morning, 85% of some 1,000 flights in and out of Guangzhou had been canceled, according to data from flight-tracking firm Variflight.
“At present, there is still a risk of community spread in non-hazardous areas, and the epidemic remains serious and complex,” Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Guangzhou municipal health commission, said on Tuesday. of a press conference.
The lockdown so far appears to be more targeted and less draconian than those seen in many other cities. While residents living in neighborhoods designated as high-risk cannot leave their homes, those in so-called low-risk areas in locked neighborhoods can go out to buy groceries and other daily necessities.
But many fear a general citywide lockdown could be imminent if the outbreak continues to spread. On WeChat, China’s super app, residents share graphs comparing Guangzhou’s growing workload to that of Shanghai in late March, in the days before the eastern financial hub’s deadly two-month lockdown.
Shanghai officials initially denied a citywide lockdown was needed, but then imposed one after the city reported 3,500 daily infections.
Anticipating that the worst is yet to come, many Guangzhou residents stocked up on food and other supplies. “I shop (groceries and snacks) online like crazy. I’ll probably end up eating leftovers for a month,” said one resident, whose area in Haizhu District was listed as at low risk by the authorities.
Others, angered by the restrictions and testing decrees, took 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, apparently largely evading the eyes of online censors who don’t understand it. not.
“I learn swear words in Cantonese every day in real-time hot search,” said one Weibo user.
Meanwhile, local authorities across the country are under pressure to step up Covid control measures despite mounting public frustration.
This week, videos of Covid workers dressed head to toe in hazmat suits beating residents went viral online. Following an outcry, police in Linyi city, Shandong province, said in a statement On Tuesday seven Covid workers were arrested following a clash with locals.