A surge in COVID-19 cases has prompted lockdowns in southern China’s manufacturing hub of Guangzhou and increased financial pressures that have disrupted global supply chains and severely slowed growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
Residents in counties with nearly 5 million people have been ordered to stay home at least until Sunday, with one member of each family allowed to go out once a day to buy essentials, local authorities said on Wednesday.
The order came after the densely populated city of 13 million reported more than 2,500 new cases in the past 24 hours. According to state media, public transport has been suspended and classes have been suspended in much of Guangzhou, while flights to Beijing and other major cities have been cancelled.
China has maintained its strict “zero-COVID” policy despite relatively low case numbers and no new deaths.
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The country’s borders remain largely closed and domestic travel and trade are fraught with ever-changing quarantine regulations.
The severe restrictions have occasionally led to clashes between residents and local Communist Party officials, who face punishment if reported cases in their areas of jurisdiction go beyond what is deemed acceptable levels.
On Tuesday, police in northeast China said seven people were arrested following a clash between residents and authorities enforcing COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. A press release from the Linyi City Police Department in Shandong said public security will take strict action against those who “illegally violate the legal rights to personal protection of citizens.”
Anti-pandemic measures have sparked backlash across the country and pose a rarely seen challenge to Communist Party authority. It was not immediately clear who was arrested after the clash. News of the arrests appeared on social media Tuesday morning but were deleted by the country’s censors before noon.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made “zero-COVID” a hallmark of his government, which received a boost last month after he was granted a third five-year term in power and loyalists were promoted to top positions.
They include the former party leader from Shanghai, where a draconian lockdown over the summer has fueled food shortages, confrontations with authorities and severe disruption to global supply chains that have become dependent on Chinese manufacturing and shipping.
Last week, access to the industrial zone, home to a factory that makes Apple iPhones, was blocked for a week after a spike in infections in Zhengzhou and the withdrawal of workers from the factory. Many climbed fences and walked highways to avoid being taken to quarantine centers, where food, hygiene and privacy standards have been heavily criticized.
Apple announced on Sunday that customers will have to wait longer to receive its latest iPhone models, saying its Foxconn factory in central China’s Zhengzhou city is “operating at significantly reduced capacity.”
Chinese leaders have dismissed calls from the United Nations World Health Organization for relaxation of regulations, refused to import foreign vaccines and resisted calls to release more information on the source of the virus, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
While the rest of the world has mostly opened up, China has only taken very cautious small steps as its borders are still largely closed and officials are under intense pressure to enforce restrictions.
China reported that its trade contracted in October as global demand slowed and antivirus controls weighed on domestic consumer spending. Exports fell 0.3 percent year on year, compared with September’s 5.7 percent growth, the customs agency reported on Monday. Imports fell 0.7 percent, compared with a 0.3 percent expansion in the previous month.
Speculation of a possible “zero-COVID” relaxation has roiled markets, but the government has kept its plans, including the ability to import foreign vaccines, top secret.