Sun | Jan 29, 2023

China eases virus controls amid effort to head off protests

Published:Friday | December 2, 2022 | 12:05 AM
A woman shops in a reopened grocery store in the district of Haizhu as pandemic restrictions are eased in southern China’s Guangzhou province yesterday.
A woman shops in a reopened grocery store in the district of Haizhu as pandemic restrictions are eased in southern China’s Guangzhou province yesterday.

BEIJING (AP):

More Chinese cities eased antivirus restrictions and police patrolled their streets Thursday as the government tried to defuse public anger over some of the world’s most stringent COVID measures and head off more protests.

Following weekend demonstrations at which some crowds made the politically explosive demand that leader Xi Jinping resign, the streets of major cities have been quiet in the face of a crackdown that has been largely out of sight.

Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities announced they were easing testing requirements and controls on movement. In some areas, markets and bus service reopened. A newspaper reported Beijing, the capital, has begun allowing some people with the virus to isolate at home, avoiding crowded quarantine centres that have prompted complaints. The government didn’t immediately respond to a request for confirmation.

But many of the rules that brought people into the streets of Shanghai, Beijing and at least six other cities remain in force. The death of former leader Jiang Zemin this week could provide another opportunity for crowds to gather and potentially protest.

The announcements easing restrictions didn’t mention last weekend’s protests of the human cost of anti-virus measures that confine millions of people to their homes. But the timing and publicity suggested Xi’s government was trying to mollify public anger.

OLDER PEOPLE

While experts say Beijing’s policies are unsustainable, they warn it can’t relax controls that keep most travellers out of China until tens of millions of older people are vaccinated. They say that means “zero COVID” might stay in place for as much as another year.

With a heavy police presence, there was no indication of protests Thursday. Notes on social media complained people were being stopped at random for police to check smartphones, possibly looking for prohibited apps such as Twitter, in what they said was a violation of China’s Constitution.

“I am especially afraid of becoming the ‘Xinjiang model’ and being searched on the excuse of walking around,” said a posting signed Qi Xiaojin on the popular Sina Weibo platform, referring to the northwestern region where Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are under intense surveillance.

Protesters have publicised protests on Twitter and other foreign social media that the Communist Party tries to block access to, while videos and photos are deleted from services within China. But police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid encouraging others by drawing attention to the scale of the protests.