Shocking footage has shown protesters in the Chinese city of Guangzhou being beaten by officials who had just imposed another “zero-Covid” lockdown. The strategy of total lockdowns has been intermittently employed by the Chinese Government, with the latest round of impositions infuriating citizens concerned for their financial well-being and desperate to avoid detention. In the footage, men in blue hazmat suits and face masks, wielding black shields, can be seen viciously striking civilians with batons. Elsewhere, supermarkets across the country were raided as uncertain citizens fear the lockdown could last months.
In the footage, one man appears to attack one of the covid officials, who proceeds to strike him with his baton. As the man escapes the official’s attack, another officer locks arms with him and begins hitting him with his shield.
The crowds erupted into cries as officials appeared to hold up pepper spray cans, threatening to use it on anyone acting out. As more protesters dismantled a gazebo and started using its legs to hit the officials, the two groups congregated in a tense exchange.
Guangzhou suspended access earlier this week to its Baiyun district of 3.7 million residents, while residents of some areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million people southwest of Beijing, were told to stay home while mass testing was conducted.
A key issue is a concern about public vulnerability to the virus. With few having caught COVID-19 or even having been exposed to the virus, only a small percentage are thought to have built up effective levels of virus-fighting antibodies.
China has an overall coronavirus vaccination rate of more than 92 percent, with most people having received at least one dose. But far fewer older Chinese — particularly those over age 80 — have gotten the shots and the earlier vaccination drive seems to have lost momentum.
Harsh measures have been enacted in many parts of China, despite the government urging more precise and targeted measures to reduce the social burden and economic costs. Local officials are under intense pressure to prevent outbreaks and often gravitate toward the most extreme measures.
Residents of some parts of China’s capital were emptying supermarket shelves and overwhelming delivery apps on Friday as the city government ordered faster construction of COVID-19 quarantine centres and field hospitals.
Uncertainty and scattered, unconfirmed reports of lockdowns in at least some Beijing districts have fueled demand for food and other supplies, something not seen in the city for months.
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Unusually large numbers of shoppers in the city’s northern suburbs left shelves bare in markets, but customers were relatively few in the centre of the city of 21 million, where supplies remained abundant.
Daily cases of COVID-19 across the country are hitting records, with 32,695 reported on Friday. Of those, 1,860 were in Beijing, the majority of them asymptomatic.
Improvised quarantine centres and field hospitals hastily thrown up in gymnasiums, exhibition centres and other large, open indoor spaces have become notorious for overcrowding, poor sanitation, scarce food supplies and lights that stay on 24 hours.
Most residents of the city have already been advised not to leave their compounds, some of which are being fenced in. At entrances, workers clad head to toe in white hazmat suits stop unauthorised people and make sure residents show a recent negative COVID-19 test result on their cell phone health apps to gain entry.
Several university campuses have been closed off and students in lower grades have been shifted to online classes.
An increase in demand combined with a worker shortage left some customers unable to book same-day delivery slots on Friday for food and supplies from popular online grocery services such as Alibaba’s Freshippo and Meituan Maicai.
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Online, some Chinese users said some delivery personnel were unable to work because their compounds were locked down. The reports could not be verified.
At a Friday afternoon news conference, city government spokesperson Xu Hejian said it was necessary “to strengthen the management and service guarantee” of quarantine centres and field hospitals where people who test positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with an infected person are taken by police.
Authorities must “further accelerate” their construction and “coordinate the allocation of space, facilities, materials, personnel and other resources,” Xu said.
Officials have in recent days repeatedly insisted that China must stick with its hard-line “zero-COVID” policy that mandates lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having come into contact with the virus.
The policy is seen as taking a harsh toll on the economy and upending lives in many Chinese cities, leading the World Health Organization and others to call for a change in tack — calls the ruling Communist Party has angrily rejected.