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China’s ‘Zero Covid’ Pursuit Causes Mayhem Ahead of Party Conclave

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In China’s far west region of Xinjiang, officials imposed a near-total lockdown and made a rare admission of failure of their handling of a Covid outbreak. In Inner Mongolia within the north, the authorities vowed “all-out” efforts to chop the spread of the virus. And in a preferred travel destination in Yunnan, in China’s south, the federal government canceled flights, trapping crowds of indignant tourists at an airport.

China is facing its largest flare-up of Covid cases in a month, complicating its preparations for an all-important Communist Party meeting where Xi Jinping is predicted to expand his authority and claim one other term in power. Provincial and native officials have vowed to stop the spread of the coronavirus from “spilling over” to Beijing, the capital, where the meeting might be held.

Day by day Covid counts have greater than doubled previously week, to around 1,400 cases on Friday, within the country of 1.4 billion people — a tally that is still tiny by global standards. But Chinese authorities are under immense pressure to be certain that nothing disrupts the party congress, which starts Oct. 16. They’ve responded by ramping up restrictions that many already deem excessive. They’re locking down regions and cities and mandating mass testing and quarantines, disrupting life for hundreds of thousands of individuals and drawing public complaints.

The authorities are sticking closely to their “zero Covid” policy of eliminating infections, despite the big economic and social cost of the strategy. Mr. Xi has made “zero Covid” a political imperative, linking support for the policy to support for the Communist Party, as he looks to hail China’s success in curbing infections as an indication of the prevalence of Beijing’s authoritarian system.

China’s pandemic strategy is “almost a political campaign to point out loyalty to Xi Jinping himself,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor of politics on the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This makes the local officials much more anxious because all of them wish to stay in the nice graces of Xi Jinping.”

Covid infections have surged partly due to country’s weeklong National Day holiday, which began on Oct. 1. Despite the appeals of health officials for people to limit travel, many flocked to tourist hot spots. Now, they’re stranded after flights and trains were canceled.

Lockdowns have been punishing for the residents of less-developed regions. Shortages of food and medicine have been common in those areas, prompting residents to take to social media with complaints and pleas for help.

The fast-spreading Omicron variant has continually slipped through China’s tight restrictions. Officials in Xinjiang were forced to confess that lapses of their approach led to cases spilling over from the region to other provinces and major cities, including Beijing.

Liu Sushe, the vice chairman of the Xinjiang region, conceded this week that the world of twenty-two million people was facing its most difficult public health emergency ever. He said some officials had been lax of their work, failing to properly impose measures to quash infections. Mr. Liu said measures, akin to compulsory mass testing, could have even contributed to spreading the virus, as some medical experts who weren’t wearing proper protection became infected themselves.

On Tuesday, Xinjiang effectively banned residents and visitors from leaving, stopping all trains and buses from departing the region and stopping most flights. But such lockdowns could lead on to more problems. Last month, residents in Yining, a city in Xinjiang, flooded social media platforms to plead for food and other provisions, including sanitary pads and medicine, during an extended lockdown. Shortage of every day necessities, in addition to the chaotic enforcement of attempts to curb the outbreak, had already forced local officials to confess failings.

Similar problems in other areas, most notably in Shanghai earlier this yr and in Tibet a couple of weeks ago, have led to anger in regards to the human and economic toll of the cruel measures.

Within the southwest province of Yunnan, indignant travelers took to the Chinese social media site Weibo to vent their anger over being stranded on the Xishuangbanna airport after flights were canceled on short notice. On Tuesday, the Xishuangbanna prefecture’s health authorities tightened restrictions, effectively stopping most individuals from leaving.

Some videos shared online showed what seemed to be guards or cops clad in white hazmat suits carrying guns and riot shields on the airport. The weapons set off confrontations, resulting in exasperated tourists shouting: “Who’re you pointing the guns at?” The Latest York Times has not been in a position to independently confirm the videos, which have mostly been censored on Chinese social media but continued to flow into widely on Twitter. Multiple calls to the airport rang unanswered on Friday.

On Weibo, commenters who said they were in areas under lockdown in Yunnan complained about not knowing when they may leave. Many wrote that they were apprehensive about getting basic necessities, with most supermarkets closed. Some stranded travelers formed self-help groups to exchange information.

In Inner Mongolia, Covid cases surged to just about 700 on Friday — the best number amongst Chinese provinces — from only a handful per week ago.

At a gathering chaired by Sun Shaocheng, the highest party official of Inner Mongolia, officials were instructed to stop infections by “killing chickens with a knife for slaughtering cows,” a play on a Chinese idiom, to point that overkill was desired. “Act faster, prevent spread and spillover, especially to Beijing,” an official readout said. Since then, several cities and counties within the region have been placed under lockdown.

Overkill is increasingly the norm. Within the tropical island province of Hainan, often dubbed the Hawaii of China, the authorities ordered mass testing after just two cases were detected on Monday. The province has only recently emerged from a lockdown in August of the favored tourist city of Sanya, which trapped tens of hundreds of travelers.

Public anger over the lockdowns has at times soared to unusual levels, including last month after a bus transferring people to quarantine crashed, killing 27 people within the southern city of Guiyang. On social media, debates raged over whether the Covid measures have caused more damage and disruption than the virus itself.

Officials have struggled to fund and staff the efforts to stop the virus. In lots of poorer areas, local government funds have turn out to be strained, particularly as they’ve sought to implement mass testing, often on hundreds of thousands of individuals every few days.

“It’s simply that quite a couple of localities have been so exhausted,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science on the University of Chicago. “One in every of the large challenges is that every one those people have been on the front line for such an extended time, the incentives are starting to diminish in certain localities, a number of the local authorities are running out of cash.”

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