European business leaders and diplomats in China have urged Xi Jinping’s government to reverse its controversial zero-Covid policy and put the world’s second-largest economy on the path to reopening, as Beijing and Guangzhou teeter on the brink of urban lockdowns.
Health officials on Friday reported a daily record of 31,987 new locally transmitted Covid-19 infections, more than 2,000 more than on Thursday. The Chinese capital is in partial lockdown, with schools, offices and shopping malls mostly closed, restaurants closed for food service, and the city’s typically bustling streets nearly empty.
Jörg Wuttke, president of the European Union’s Chamber of Commerce in China, expressed concern in a letter to Beijing’s Acting Mayor Yin Yong about the “increasingly stringent epidemiological controls” and the lack of “reasonable explanations” for the closure decisions. shops and residential buildings.
“The lack of adequate preparation has resulted in district governments and/or communities handling the recent outbreak in the same way as before, closing businesses – many of which were forced to close despite being in a non-dangerous area – and residences. and other public places,” the letter states.
“This is very worrying, given that Shanghai’s experience earlier this year shows that many foreigners are likely to leave China after long-term closures. This would undermine Beijing’s goal of becoming an international city.”
Shanghai, China’s most important international financial city, was shut down for two months after an uncontrolled outbreak.
The French Embassy in Beijing took to social media on Thursday to share the concerns of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry of China, calling on Beijing to move beyond a zero-covid strategy aimed at eliminating all coronavirus cases.
The latest lockdown was ordered despite the State Council, China’s cabinet, shortening quarantine periods and halting the tracing of second-degree close contacts of confirmed positive cases two weeks ago. The changes were intended to ease the centralized quarantine system that currently houses more than 1 million people and lead China toward reopening.
But conflicting policies aimed at curbing coronavirus outbreaks while limiting economic and social disruption have caused much confusion among local government officials and the public.
The EU Chamber also demanded a clear schedule from the government for the comprehensive introduction of the vaccine against Covid-19 and the “return to normality”.
The stark differences between policy and implementation are “antithetical to the principle of ‘scientific and precise.’ . . and has led to uncertainty among Beijing citizens and a loss of business confidence,” the letter said.
Hundreds of thousands of Beijingers were trapped in their homes in the city’s 16 districts as city officials raced to quarantine residents of buildings infected with Covid-19. Many communities have started organizing into WeChat groups, pledging to support and protect neighbors who catch Covid and decide to self-quarantine at home.
News of the community organization was quickly censored as authorities insisted on herding the infected to makeshift camps that had sprung up around the city, usually consisting of cots set up in gymnasiums or convention centers. In the quarantine camps, the lights are on 24 hours a day.
Cases have also accelerated in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong and the manufacturing hub of southern China. Given Guangzhou’s important role in China’s economy, authorities have tried to avoid a Shanghai-style urban lockdown, even as cases run into the thousands. District-wide lockdowns were imposed instead.
The Guangzhou government is now arranging transport to send residents under the Covid lockdown to their hometowns after some tried to break out of the locked areas.
“[Residents were] breaking through barriers. . .[and]get out of control,” said Zhang Yi, deputy director of the city’s health commission.
In Hong Kong, the number of US companies using the city as a regional hub fell to 240, the lowest level since 2002.
Businesses in the city have been spooked by strict Covid policies, many of which have recently been relaxed, and a strict national security law introduced in 2020 to quell anti-government protests.
Edward White in Seoul, Ryan McMorrow and Maiqi Ding in Beijing, Primrose Riordan, William Langley and Gloria Li in Hong Kong