In southern China, residents revolt against COVID-19 controls

Frustrated residents of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou broke temporary barriers and marched through the streets in revolt earlier this week against strict COVID-19 controls, according to videos and online reports .

The violence comes just weeks before the third anniversary of the emergence of COVID-19 next month – and as China continues to follow a hardline policy that has kept its borders largely closed and led to massive lockdowns and travel restrictions affecting hundreds of millions of people across the country.

Last week, the central government announced steps to start easing its so-called “dynamic zero COVID” policy, which has hurt the economy and shaken public patience and confidence in policy-making.

But the number of cases is rising, posing a challenge for Beijing.

Guangzhou, a manufacturing hub of about 19 million people, reported more than 6,200 COVID cases on Tuesday. The city imposed mandatory closures on large sections of the city, sparking the unrest.

Online video showed residents of Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, largely inhabited by factory workers, tearing down barricades set up to isolate neighborhoods.

NPR was unable to independently verify the video.

A witness who lives nearby said swathes of the area had been in lockdown for about a month and the stress was increasing.

“The population is tense. Staples might be in short supply for some people. For several nights I have been hearing explosions of screaming,” she said.

Contacted by telephone, the Haizhu district government did not immediately comment.

Guangzhou is not the first place where frustrations over COVID checks have boiled over.

In Shanghai in the spring, the government imposed a two-month lockdown that sparked sporadic clashes with authorities. And earlier this month, violence was reported in northeast China.

The arbitrariness and unpredictability of lockdowns, restrictions on individual freedom and lack of transparency have also had other far-reaching effects.

Last month, dozens of workers at a giant factory in central China that makes iPhones fled after the factory closed. Apple then warned that iPhone shipments would be affected by COVID restrictions.

The government released data on Tuesday indicating the shutdowns were hitting consumption and factory activity. China is expected to fall short of the government’s stated GDP growth target this year “by around 5.5%”, in part due to coronavirus controls.

As is customary for topics deemed politically sensitive, state media remained silent on the Guangzhou unrest, while posts and footage of the protest were blocked or deleted on social media.

(Aowen Cao contributed research from Beijing.)

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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