China Imposes More Covid Lockdowns, Stoking Anxiety

In the hours before the city of Chengdu, southern China on coronavirus lockdown, Matthew Chen visited four vegetable markets in an attempt to stock up on fresh food. But the whole city seemed to share the same idea, and when he went to each place, most of the shelves were stripped bare, except for hot peppers and fruit, he said.

Mr. Chen, a white-collar worker in his 30s, managed to pick up enough cherry tomatoes, meat and greens for about a day, and since then, he has ordered grocery deliveries to help him get through his life. Lockdown begins on Friday. But he worries about whether that supply will remain steady, and how long he will have to rely on it.

“The longer the lockdown goes on, the more problematic it becomes and the harder it is to tolerate,” he said, noting that the Chengdu government had not given a timeline for reopening.

The problem appeared. Some residents have complained on social media about the long delay in food delivery. Over the weekend, Chengdu’s Covid testing system – tasked with wiping out all of the city’s 21 million residents every day – crashed, leaving residents waiting in line for hours.

Similar scenes of unrest and anxiety are playing out across China, as the country faces a new wave of coronavirus outbreaks, with cases recorded over the past week in most provinces. Authorities responded with network lockdowns and mass testing to determine the country’s “zero Covid” policy.

The number of infections remains relatively small, with about 1,500 new cases on Sunday. However, about 60 million people across China are facing partial or total lockdown, according to Chinese mediafrom Chengdu to the economic powerhouse south of Shenzhen to the oil-producing city of Daqing near Russia.

The challenges of enforcing such widespread control measures are discouraging, perhaps more now than at any other time during the pandemic. Nearly three years of unlocking lashed out at the economyto send unemployment skyrocketed, especially among young people. The country is increasingly isolated, as the rest of the world largely abandons Covid restrictions. New extra variables are easier to cast than ever. And the seemingly endless restrictions make many ordinary Chinese people more tired.

But the stakes have also reached new heights. The ruling Communist Party is expected to hold important congress on October 16, where China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is expected to declare a third term. Mr. Xi has put his personal stamp on “zero Covid”, seeing it as proof of the party’s strength – and in other words, of his own leadership. Any local officials deemed to undermine that claim could face serious consequences.

The overwhelming demand for eradicating infections has been evident in the speed at which cities have closed recently, despite the massive economic and social toll.

Chengdu on Sunday announced that it will resume stay-at-home orders and daily universal testing starting on Friday for at least three more days, as the situation remains “severe and complicated”. It does not indicate whether the lockdown will end after that.

The restrictions are sure to put a strain on Chengdu’s economy. Even before the closure, the city banned large-scale gatherings, leading to the cancellation of an international auto show that last year generated nearly $1 billion in revenue.

The outage also follows a recent drought, record heat and power outages last month. leading to factory closure through Sichuan province, where Chengdu is the capital. In fact, the heat may have exacerbated the spread of the virus: Some of the main clusters were linked to the pools where people went to cool off, according to state media.

For many, the panic shopping in Chengdu underscored how profound the previous lockdown was – especially the fatigue. Shanghai’s two months of closure earlier this year – shocked everyone. Although Chengdu officials tried to reassure residents that food supplies were plentiful, Shanghai made similar assurances, only to find that Report shortages of food and medicine.

Chengdu officials themselves have also tested residents’ trust, after the authorities last week order a man was jailed for 15 days for allegedly spreading false rumors on social media about a lurking lockdown. Two days later, when the city actually shut down, social media exploded with support for the man and anger at the government.

“Everybody is scared, afraid that the situation will become like Shanghai,” said Chen, an office worker who had traveled to Chengdu before being stuck there by restrictions.

However, he saw no alternative but to endure the situation. “Personally, I am deeply disgusted and do not support these policies. But there was nothing I could do,” he said. “I can only wait.”

The no-cases-at-all-cost momentum has also led to widespread closures in Shenzhen, one of China’s most economically important metropolises, home to major tech companies. , including Tencent and Huawei. There, the local government over the weekend ordered most of the city’s 18 million residents to stay home, postponed the start of the school year and closed most public transport, after discovering about 400 case in the past week.

Lockdowns are being extended in parts of Hainan province and in regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, the main resort destinations where an outbreak of infections last month led to thousands of tourists trapped in their hotels, sometimes at their own expense. Over the weekend, at least 33 cities were subject to some form of restriction, according to Caixin, a Chinese news agency.

As restrictions have spread across the country, so has public discontent. In Chengdu, the testing failures caused a wave of outrage against the company responsible, with online commenters noting that some areas of focus on Covid control are gaining steam. profits while ordinary people are facing economic difficulties. Test companies have reported revenue spikes in the public record.

In Daqing, a city of nearly three million people in northeastern China, was closed for about two weeks, local officials said. promise to investigate Reports on social media are widely shared of a pregnant woman having a miscarriage after being denied medical care because of Covid restrictions.

Even the government seems to have tacitly acknowledged that people’s patience is dwindling. In many of the cities that have been under lockdown recently, officials have tried very hard not to call the measures a shutdown. In Shenzhen, local officials describe the weekend requirement is just universal testing – later adding that residents should immediately return home after that. Chengdu notification said residents will “in principle stay at home.”

On the social networking platform Weibo, the hashtag “Chengdu is locked” has been censored.

However, no matter what new terminology officials use, the experience feels familiar to Freya Yang, a college student from Chengdu. She spent the spring almost completely unable to leave her campus in Beijing. Now, after going home for the summer, she can’t go back to school and is missing the start of her senior year.

“People just know what they’re going through, which is you can’t go out,” Ms. Yang said. “These puns, people don’t really care about them.”

Li You and Zixu Wang Contributing research.

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