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China's financial hub Shanghai reported over 27,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday, a new high, a day after President Xi Jinping said that the country must continue with its strict "dynamic COVID clearance" policy and pandemic control measures.

Shanghai is battling China's worst COVID-19 outbreak since the virus first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, with its 25 million residents remaining largely under lockdown, though restrictions were partially eased in some areas this week.

Wider curbs to stop the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant have led to logistical and supply chain disruptions that are taking a growing economic toll, adding to expectations that China's central bank will soon announce more stimulus measures.

Unlike some shorter lockdowns in China, like one last month in the technological hub of Shenzhen, the Shanghai lockdown, now in its third week, has spawned some of the most anti-government criticism in years on the country’s tightly controlled social media.

Shanghai residents have taken to social media to vent frustration over the difficulties of getting enough food and China's policy that requires anyone testing positive, symptomatic or not, to be centrally quarantined, where many people have complained about poor conditions.

 Xi’s rigid approach -- now depriving citizens of food, medical care and movement -- also threatens to undermine his goals to improve the lives of ordinary people, a key pillar of the social contract that underpins the Communist Party’s legitimacy.

While food shortages have eased in some places and protests are still rare, simmering rage is rife among 25 million people confined to their homes with no end in sight. Tens of thousands of social media users have passed around acts of individual defiance and reports of suicides on Weibo and WeChat, with censors quickly removing some posts on government misconduct.

The crisis is one of the biggest tests yet for Xi, who is likely to seek a third five-year term during a Communist Party congress later this year. The lockdowns in Shanghai and Jilin -- a northeastern province of 24 million people -- have fueled widespread criticisms of his government’s response to the highly infectious Omicron variant, threatening to taint an occasion to tout his accomplishments and trumpet China’s rise.

Xi made a veiled reference to the growing outrage on Wednesday on a visit to the tourist destination of Hainan province, saying the country needed to stick with its zero-tolerance approach to Covid despite the growing discontent and economic costs. In particular, he said, it was necessary to overcome “paralyzing thoughts" and “war weariness" while preventing any imported cases and local virus flare-ups.

Testing patience

On Wednesday, Xi said during a visit to south China's Hainan island that China must stick to its strict "dynamic COVID clearance" policy while the global pandemic remains very serious, promising those enduring lockdowns that persistence will win out in the end.

He indicated there would be no immediate change of approach in pandemic control measures, saying that the country must stick to its approach, which has all but shut China's borders to international travel, and not relax prevention measures.

Xi's remarks follow several recent state media articles supporting China's aggressive COVID strategy even as Shanghai residents chafe under restrictions.

On Thursday, an article titled "The people of Shanghai's patience has reached its limit" by a blogger called Lady Moye, enumerating the human toll of Shanghai's hardline anti-COVID measures including family separations, went viral on social media platform WeChat.

One comment, "Whoever deletes this article should die a sorry death," received over half a million likes in seven hours, before the article was removed for violating regulations, according to a WeChat notice.

Growth slid to 4% over a year earlier in the final quarter of 2021 after tighter official controls on debt triggered a collapse in home sales and construction, industries that support millions of jobs.

Even before the latest shutdowns, the ruling party was promising tax refunds and other help for entrepreneurs who generate wealth and jobs.

Premier Li Keqiang, the No. 2 leader and top economic official, called this week for “quicker rollout" of aid for businesses that face a “key juncture for survival," China News Service reported.

Investors have been looking for any sign that Xi would relax some Covid curbs. Speculation on Tuesday over easing measures lured the biggest foreign inflows this month to local stocks, though that optimism quickly dissipated with Xi’s latest comments. Most bets are centered on how much economic stimulus is coming to help achieve a 5.5% growth target that looks increasingly untenable.

Pimco Asia Ltd. this week downgraded its China growth forecast to mid-4% this year on expectations that the mainland’s Covid disruption won’t normalize until May. “The longer local lockdowns last, the harder it will be for factories to make up losses," Carol Liao China economist wrote in a note.

On Thursday, Shanghai reported a record 2,573 symptomatic cases for the previous day, up from 1,189 a day earlier, while asymptomatic cases reached 25,146, up from 25,141. A health official warned Wednesday that Shanghai didn't have the virus under control despite its easing restrictions, news Agency AP reported.

Some 6.6 million people were allowed to leave their homes in areas that had no new cases for at least a week. But at least 15 million others still are barred from going outdoors.

A city official said that cases continued to rise despite the lockdown in part because of a backlog of test results and because of ongoing transmission among family members.

In the coronavirus-hit northeastern province of Jilin, authorities said they had stamped out the local spread of COVID-19 after battling to bring cases down since mid-March.

But the southern technology hub of Shenzhen appeared to be seeing a resurgence after quashing an outbreak last month. On Thursday, authorities reported 21 new infections, including 8 with symptoms and 13 without, its highest total since March 21.

The city government of Suzhou, a centre for smartphone manufacturing and other high-tech industry west of Shanghai, told its 18 million people to stay home when possible.

Taiyuan, a blue-collar city of 4 million in central China, suspended inter-city bus service, according to the official China News Service. Ningde in the southeast barred residents from leaving.


 


 

 

 

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