Record high in China’s COVID-19 cases as lockdowns expand

The National Health Commission has reported 31,444 cases, the highest daily number since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in April

Updated - November 24, 2022 10:02 pm IST

Published - November 24, 2022 08:35 am IST - Beijing

With over 30,000 cases, China’s daily COVID-19 tally hits record high. File

With over 30,000 cases, China’s daily COVID-19 tally hits record high. File | Photo Credit: AP

China on Thursday reported a record number of COVID-19 cases – the highest in the country since the pandemic began – with spreading outbreaks in cities ranging from the capital Beijing in the north to the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in the south testing the government’s “zero-COVID” strategy.

The National Health Commission on Thursday reported 31,444 cases, the highest daily number since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in April when Shanghai was in the midst of a harsh two month-long lockdown.

The latest wave has seen concurrent outbreaks across the country, with major rises in the number of cases in Guangzhou, Chongqing in the southwest, Zhengzhou in central Henan province, and Beijing in the north. Both Chongqing and Zhengzhou are key manufacturing centres for electronics, with the latter home to the world’s biggest iPhone assembly plant, operated by Taiwanese firm Foxconn, which has seen recent unrest amid clashes between workers and police. Zhengzhou has announced a lockdown of the city starting Friday.

The Chinese capital wore a deserted look on Thursday, with empty streets in the central business district on account of the closure of most offices, schools, public parks, and shopping malls.

The new outbreaks have tested the Chinese government’s current “zero-COVID” approach, with the leadership earlier this month announcing 20 new easing measures calling for a more “targeted” approach and to avoid sweeping lockdowns. The measures were aimed at minimising the economic and social disruptions from the “zero-COVID” policy.

Also Read | COVID-19 infections in China reach peak since late April

The new outbreaks have, however, precisely led to more mass disruptions as cities have once again turned to locking down areas with cases.  While China’s lockdowns worked effectively in the first year of the pandemic and helped the country avoid a major second wave unlike the rest of the world, the continuing approach has exacted a heavy toll on the public and the economy, and has also struggled with containing the more transmissible Omicron variant. And unlike in 2020 when most Chinese tolerated the lockdowns which avoided mass deaths, anger is now growing at the continued policy, particularly with the rest of the world returning to normalcy and most cases in China described by authorities as either mild or asymptomatic. In recent days, both Guangzhou and Zhengzhou, among other areas,  have seen clashes between security personnel and residents and factory workers who have protested the measures.

Beijing hasn’t announced a city-wide lockdown in keeping with the new “targeted” measures, although most central areas of the city were effectively partially closed. The city on Thursday reported more than 1,000 “high risk” zones, referring to buildings where there were positive cases and which have subsequently been locked down.

Authorities have ruled out phasing out the “zero-COVID” approach, fearing mass deaths and a collapse of the healthcare system with a large number of the elderly population yet to take a booster dose. Data from Hong Kong showed Chinese vaccines were effective in preventing hospitalisation and death only with three doses, and most of those who died in Hong Kong’s wave in March and April this year were elderly residents who hadn’t completed vaccinations.

Experts have questioned why Beijing hasn’t pursued a booster campaign more aggressively or introduced vaccine mandates, instead continuing to focus on lockdowns and mass testing.

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