Reports suggest China is moving towards less disruptive COVID-19 policies – The Diplomat

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Chinese officials are trying to quell an outcry over the death of a 3-year-old boy from a quarantined residential area, fueling public anger over antivirus controls that have locked millions in their homes.

The boy died at a Lanzhou hospital from carbon monoxide poisoning, which was attributed to a gas leak. His father accused health workers who enforced the closure of the site of refusing and trying to stop him as he was taking his son to the hospital.

The father’s social media account sparked angry comments about the human cost of the ruling Communist Party’s “zero-COVID” strategy, which has locked families in cramped apartments for weeks to combat outbreaks.

The quarantine system “should protect life and health, not confront the people to be rescued with obstacles!” according to a post on the popular social media service Sina Weibo.

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Ruling party adheres to “zero-COVID” while other governments relax antivirus controls. That has kept China’s infection numbers relatively low but is disrupting business and travel.

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Residents in many parts of the northwestern Xinjiang region were prevented from leaving their homes in August and September. People in Urumqi and other cities who said they had run out of food and medicine posted calls for help on social media.

Public frustration has escalated into battles with police and health workers in some places.

The Lanzhou city government issued a statement expressing “deep sadness and regret” over the boy’s death, blaming it on “weak emergency response measures.” It said government employees who responded badly would be “treated seriously”.

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The boy’s father said he tried to call an ambulance after his son collapsed at home following a possible gas leak on Monday. The father wrote that he asked health workers at the gate of the compound for help, but they told him to ask someone else and asked him to provide a negative virus test. The father wrote that he ended up taking his son to a hospital in a taxi, where doctors were unable to revive him.

A statement from the city government on its social media account said investigators found an employee at a checkpoint in the neighborhood and told the father to call 911 if he asked for help.

Lanzhou Mayor Zhang Weiwen visited the neighborhood on Thursday and vowed to “open the ‘last mile’ for the masses to receive medical treatment,” the government newspaper Lanzhou Daily reported.

The government pledged to “profoundly learn from the painful lessons of this accident,” the newspaper said.

The public, businesses and foreign investors are keeping an eye out for signs that the ruling party may be easing restrictions that are weighing on the economy and making it difficult to enter and exit China.

The ruling party newspaper People’s Daily last month tried to quash hopes of a quick easing by saying “zero COVID” was working and citing health experts who said it had to stay put.

Nonetheless, Chinese company share prices soared in Hong Kong on Tuesday after a rumor circulated on social media that a “reopening committee” could be formed to consider easing restrictions. Prices fell after the government failed to confirm the rumour.

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Hong Kong stocks rose again on Friday after an official newspaper said the health ministry wants to make antivirus measures less costly and a city with the world’s largest iPhone factory pledged to ease restrictions.

Health experts and economists say “zero-COVID” is likely to persist through most of 2023, in part because millions of older people need to be vaccinated before Beijing can consider relaxing requirements that people who come to China must be quarantined for a week or more.

This week, access to an industrial zone in downtown Zhengzhou, home to the largest factory that assembles Apple Inc.’s iPhones, was closed after infections.

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The National Health Commission said this week the country must control outbreaks “with the minimal affected scale and in the shortest time and at the lowest possible cost,” according to the Global Times, published by the ruling party’s People’s Daily.

This is intended to “correct mistakes made by overly strict measures that have damaged people’s property and lives,” reported the Global Times late Thursday.

Among other things, train passengers traveling to Beijing from the southern region of Guangxi near Hong Kong are no longer required to submit nuclear test results, the newspaper said.

The ruling party responded to complaints about the high cost of “zero-COVID” by moving earlier this year to a strategy that isolates buildings or neighborhoods rather than entire cities after cases are found.

Still, after outbreaks in Shanghai in March, most of the city’s 25 million residents were confined to their homes for two months. More recently, families have been confined at home for weeks after outbreaks.

On Monday, visitors to Shanghai Disneyland were temporarily barred from leaving the park as the city had expanded to around 439,000 people as part of virus testing. The city health department said all guests had tested negative.

In Zhengzhou, a city of 12.5 million people in Henan province, authorities said restrictions would be eased on Thursday as the government tries to identify and isolate new cases.

On Wednesday, access to an industrial area next to Zhengzhou Airport was closed for a week following outbreaks.

Thousands of workers assembling Apple’s iPhone 14 at a factory there run by Foxconn Technology Group left the company last month after ill workers complained about not being able to get medical help. The company later said it had implemented “closed-loop management,” an official term for employees who live at their workplaces and have no outside contact.

Foxconn said the Zhengzhou factory is operational, but the company and Apple have not responded to questions about how production and supplies could be affected.

Authorities are focused on “restoring order to production and life” and will “strive to end this round of the epidemic as soon as possible,” Zhengzhou municipal government deputy secretary-general Li Huifang said, according to The Paper News agency from Shanghai.