BEIJING: Chinese leaders on Thursday vowed to improve quarantine and other anti-virus policies after public frustration turned into protests, but said they would stick to a tough ‘zero Covid’ strategy which has confined millions of people to their homes and disrupted the economy.
President Xi Jinping’s government is enforcing some of the world’s most extreme virus restrictions despite rising costs, while other countries are easing travel and other restrictions. The government has given no indication of when it might ease controls that shut down Shanghai and other major cities for weeks to find and isolate every infected person.
The seven members of the ruling Communist Party standing committee said he would “unwaveringly adhere” to “zero Covid” but promised to make it less disruptive. He said 20 changes, including quarantine, testing and treatment, had been approved, but gave no details. The party has promised to release “stranded people” who have been quarantined or prevented for weeks from leaving cities where there are cases.
“We will protect people’s lives and health as much as possible and minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development,” party leaders said in a statement.
“Zero Covid” has kept China’s infection rate relatively low but is weighing on the economy and disrupting life by closing schools, factories and shops or sealing off neighborhoods without warning. The closure of Shanghai and other industrial centers from March sent shockwaves through global trade.
Following a further upsurge in cases, a growing number of areas are closing businesses and imposing traffic curbs. Videos circulating on social media show residents in some areas protesting or fighting with police and health workers.
Thursday, the National Health Commission reported that 1,133 new cases had been discovered in the past 24 hours, including 500 in the southern business center of Guangzhou, the latest hot spot. In addition, he said tests revealed 7,691 people were infected without showing symptoms.
Forecasters say China’s economic growth is weakening again after rebounding to 3.9% year on year in the three months to September from 2.2% in the first half. Economists expect annual growth to be as low as 3%, less than half of last year’s 8.1%.
The Standing Committee was appointed last month by a party congress that also widened Xi’s political dominance by nominating him for a third five-year term as leader. He is filled with his allies.
“Zero Covid” requires people to show a negative result from a virus test taken as often as once a day to enter office buildings, malls and other public places. Residents of cities with a single case in the past week are barred from traveling to Beijing, the capital.
Travelers from overseas must quarantine in a hotel for seven to ten days. Business groups say this discourages foreign executives from visiting, prompting companies to shift their investment plans to other countries.
Last week, access to part of the central city of Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, was suspended following outbreaks. Thousands of workers left the Taiwan-run factory’Foxconn Technology Group last month following complaints that colleagues who fell ill had received no help and that working conditions were unsafe.
Also last week, people posted outraged comments on social media after the death of a 3-year-old boy whose enclosure in the North West was under quarantine from carbon monoxide poisoning. His father complained that the guards enforcing the closure refused to help him and tried to arrest him as he took his son to hospital.
Health experts and economists say ‘zero Covid’ should stay in place for up to one more year. They say millions of older people need to be vaccinated before Beijing can ease quarantine restrictions on people coming to China.

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