China reported a record number of daily Covid infections on Thursday, as a nationwide rise in cases puts pressure on the country’s increasingly unpopular zero-tolerance approach to the virus.
The National Health Commission (NHC) recorded 31,444 locally transmitted cases on Wednesday – surpassing the previous peak of 29,317 recorded on April 13 during Shanghai’s months-long lockdown.
The surge is fueled by outbreaks in several cities and comes despite authorities’ refusal to end strict infection controls, even in the face of a growing – and unprecedented – backlash against their hardline approach of relentless lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing mandates.
Meanwhile, a trickle of Covid-related deaths has added further pressure to the mix. Beijing recorded its fourth Covid-related death since last weekend on Wednesday, alongside 1,648 local infections – its third consecutive day of more than 1,000 local cases.
On Thursday, city officials said they were converting a large exhibition center into a makeshift hospital for quarantining and treating Covid patients.
It was just the latest sign of the capital increasing Covid checks. Earlier this week, schools in several districts moved classes online as Chaoyang – epicenter of the city’s outbreak and home to many international businesses and embassies – urged residents to stay at home and closed restaurants , gyms and beauty salons.
China, the last major world economy to still enforce strict zero Covid measures, announced a limited policy easing earlier this month in what some observers saw as a sign the government was acknowledging its shortcomings.
It discouraged unnecessary mass testing and the overzealous classification of restricted areas as “high risk”, removed quarantine requirements for secondary close contacts and reduced quarantine for close contacts and international arrivals.
Following the announcement, several Chinese cities canceled mass Covid testing, but there remains a dizzying array of restrictions for residents to navigate – especially when outbreaks occur.
The signs that people have had enough are becoming increasingly dramatic and rare protests have broken out in a country where authorities have traditionally cracked down on any sign of dissent.
Protests erupted this week at the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant in the city of Zhengzhou. Videos on social media showed workers confronting riot police after authorities tried to lock down the facility following an outbreak. It comes a week after some residents of the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou rioted against a prolonged lockdown by tearing down barriers and marching in the streets.
Fueling the anger of citizens trapped in the shutdowns are recurring issues like being unable to access prompt medical care or getting enough food and supplies, or losing jobs and income.