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Covid curbs set off rare unrest in Chinese city of Guangzhou

Videos widely shared on Twitter showed noisy scenes of people charging down streets and confronting workers in white hazmat suits in the city’s Haizhu district.
HAIZHU, CHINA - NOVEMBER 13: Residents queue up for COVID-19 nucleic acid tests on November 13, 2022 in Haizhu district, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
Residents line up for coronavirus testing in the Haizhu district of Guangzhou, China, on Sunday.VCG via Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

BEIJING — Crowds of people in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou crashed through Covid barriers and marched down streets in chaotic scenes on Monday night, according to videos posted online, in a show of public resentment over coronavirus curbs.

Among the latest outbreaks in China, Guangzhou’s is the largest, with new daily infections topping 5,000 for the first time and fueling speculation that localized lockdowns could widen.

Videos widely shared on Twitter showed noisy scenes in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district of people charging down streets and remonstrating with workers clad in white hazmat suits.

Twitter is blocked in China, and several hashtags related to the topic of “riots” in the area were scrubbed from China’s Twitter-like Weibo by Tuesday morning.

Neither the Guangzhou city government nor the Guangdong provincial police responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.

“It was quite tense out there last night. Everyone made sure their doors were locked,” said a Guangzhou resident who uses the name Chet and lives about half a mile from where the protest took place. He said local chat groups and social media feeds had been flooded with videos and pictures of the episode.

“When it happened so close to me I found it really upsetting. I couldn’t sleep last night after watching those images,” said Chet, whose residential compound has been locked down for about 20 days.

On Tuesday, China reported 17,772 new local Covid-19 infections, up from 16,072 a day earlier and the most since April, even as many cities scaled back routine testing after authorities announced measures last week aimed at easing the impact of heavy coronavirus curbs.

In the capital, Beijing, new infections hit a record 462 for Monday. Major cities including Chongqing and Zhengzhou were among the worst hit.

Still, China is scrambling to limit the damage of its zero-Covid policy nearly three years into the pandemic, as the latest in a spate of dismal economic reports showed retail sales fell in October and factory output grew more slowly than expected.

While many residents have expressed guarded optimism after Friday’s announcement that some of the stringent Covid policies would be eased, concerns grew this week over the worsening outbreaks and there was confusion as some cities halted or adjusted regular testing.

Monday night’s scenes from Guangzhou were the latest outpouring of frustration over Covid curbs that have brought frequent lockdowns and enforced quarantines under a signature policy of President Xi Jinping that China argues saves lives.

Last month, a Covid outbreak at a massive Foxconn plant that makes Apple iPhones in Zhengzhou set off chaos, with many workers fleeing, including by climbing fences, hobbling production.

Officials in Guangzhou, home to nearly 19 million people, said they plan more makeshift hospitals in addition to the six that have been built that have 20,000 beds, mainly for observation of infected people without symptoms.

“The infection curve of Guangzhou is tracking the pace of Shanghai’s March-April outbreak, raising the question of whether a city-wide lockdown will be triggered,” JPMorgan analysts wrote, referring to Shanghai’s two-month lockdown this year, which set off widespread unrest.

“It would become a testing point regarding the government’s determination to push for the relaxation of Covid control measures,” they said.