Frustration simmered on Friday among residents and business groups in China navigating tighter COVID-19 controls as the country reported another record daily infections just weeks after hopes for easing measures were raised.

The upsurge in COVID cases in China, with 32,695 new local infections recorded on Thursday as several cities report outbreaks, has prompted widespread lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and business, as well as pushbacks.

China’s response to COVID is straining the world’s second-largest economy, and its central bank on Friday made a widely-anticipated supportive move by cutting the amount of money banks must hold in reserves. This frees up 500 billion yuan ($69.8 billion) of long-term liquidity.

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The French Chamber of Commerce in China urged authorities to properly implement the COVID “optimization” measures it announced two weeks ago, in a statement widely shared on social media after the French embassy posted it Thursday on its similar Weibo account to Twitter.

The 20 measures, which include shortened quarantines and other more targeted steps, had “gave hope” to French companies for more bilateral trade and economic exchanges, but “we also need to implement good policies uniformly and without adding layers of other contradictory policies”. reads the statement from the House.

The announcement of the 20 measures, just as surging cases have prompted an increasingly heavy response under China’s stringent zero-COVID approach, have caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in major cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked up in home.

Chinese citizens line up for swab tests amid the nation’s ongoing battle against the COVID pandemic, with many restrictions still in place despite much of the world gradually easing them.
(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

“Draconian Approach”

China defends the zero-COVID policy signed by President Xi Jinping as life-saving and necessary to avoid overwhelming the health care system.

Many analysts expect a significant easing of coronavirus limits only from next March or April at the earliest, with some experts warning China needs to significantly ramp up vaccinations and change its messaging in a country where COVID fears run high. .

A step towards living with COVID in the medium term would be difficult, said Rob Carnell, an economist at Singapore-based ING.

“Once you start moving away from the really draconian approach, then this thing evolves quickly,” he said.

“I’m still not sure if they’re willing to take that blow,” he said, referring to the large number of people getting sick or dying. “And until they are, they’re going to have to struggle with that.”

At the world’s largest iPhone factory in the central city of Zhengzhou, more than 20,000 new hires have walked out after COVID-related worker unrest this week, further jeopardizing production at Apple supplier Foxconn’s plant, Reuters reported.

References to a speech by a man in the southwestern city of Chongqing calling for the government to admit its mistakes over COVID were widely shared on Chinese social media.

“Give me freedom or die,” the bespectacled man told residents in an impassioned speech on Thursday, according to videos viewed by Reuters.

“There is only one disease in the world and that is being poor and having no freedom,” he added. “We have both now. We are still struggling and suffering from a bit of a cold.”

The man was later seen being dragged towards a police car by security personnel, causing angry cries from onlookers.

Hashtags related to the man, whom netizens have dubbed “Chongqing’s superman brother” or “Chongqing’s hero”, were censored on Friday. But individual users continued to show support by posting discreet messages or cartoon images of him.

Alternative approaches?

As lockdowns afflict more and more people, some are proposing alternative approaches. In Beijing, residents of some compounds shared proposals on WeChat about how infected neighbors could quarantine at home if they didn’t show severe symptoms.

It is unclear whether such initiatives would be successful.

Notices listing the circumstances in which healthcare workers can remove a person from their home have also been circulated online, aimed at educating people about their rights if required to be taken to a quarantine centre.

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Oxford Economics senior economist Louise Loo said reports of public dissatisfaction in provinces in partial or full lockdowns had gained momentum, as was the case during the last major outbreak in April, although these ‘do not yet reflect a’ large-scale collective action”.

“As before, we expect officials to be able to respond quickly to stem the societal risk of an escalation of protests, through a combination of heavier information controls or a gradual easing of restrictions,” Loo wrote.

Although the April outbreak was concentrated in Shanghai, the clusters of cases this time are numerous and distant.

The southern city of Guangzhou and the southwestern part of Chongqing have recorded the most cases, while cities such as Chengdu, Jinan, Lanzhou, Xian and Wuhan have recorded hundreds of new infections every day. Beijing reported 1,860 cases for Thursday.

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To the east, Nanjing in Jiangsu province said it would conduct mass tests for five consecutive days starting Saturday, the latest city to announce such plans.

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