China has warned families to store food and other essentials in case of emergencies, as officials drastically tighten restrictions to control a small Covid-19 outbreak.
Beijing’s already harsh “zero Covid” policies have grown even stricter as coronavirus cases climb in the country despite targeted lockdowns. Authorities reported 54 new locally transmitted cases on Monday.
China’s commerce ministry did not cite Covid outbreaks or potential lockdowns as a reason for people to store more supplies. But the ministry did urge authorities in charge of lockdown areas to publicise information quickly on where and how people could get essentials.
Food prices are volatile in China and traditionally rise as winter approaches. Vegetable prices have surged over recent weeks because of heavy rains and flooding.
The Economic Daily, controlled by the Chinese Communist party’s Central Committee, urged readers not to be alarmed by the ministry’s advice but also noted that many households had been caught up in Covid lockdowns without adequate supplies of rice and vegetables.
In Beijing, officials have urged anyone travelling or away on business not to return, while restricting departures. Civil servants and employees at state-owned enterprises are typically banned from travelling during outbreaks.
While Beijing has reported only 31 new infections since mid-October, authorities have closed some cinemas and other entertainment venues while quarantining large residential areas.
China’s latest Covid-19 outbreak also expanded to Shanghai, where authorities shut down Disneyland. On Sunday night more than 30,000 revellers who had been posing with Mickey Mouse and watching fireworks were sealed in the park for mass testing by healthcare workers in hazmat suits. The Disney lockdown was ordered after one person who had been to the park tested positive.
China’s strict rules have helped suppress coronavirus outbreaks, which are tiny by international standards, and reduced the death toll from the pandemic. But the rolling lockdowns and other restrictions have begun to weigh on economic growth, especially since the highly contagious Delta variant took root in China over the summer.
Zhong Nanshan, one of China’s leading coronavirus experts and a government adviser, told state media that the zero-Covid approach was “relatively low-cost”.
“This policy will continue for a relatively long time and it will depend on how the rest of the world gets control of the pandemic,” Zhong said.
Some commenters on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, disagreed. “It might be low-cost for the government but what about for the common people?” asked one user.
The number of people caught in ad hoc quarantines has grown as officials have expanded the forced isolation to include the potential contacts of people who had tested positive.
Gabriel Corsetti, an expat in Beijing, said he had been put under home quarantine for 11 days with a sensor attached to his door after briefly entering a hotel and asking for help at the front desk. A Covid positive individual had also visited the hotel.
“I told them I’d only been [inside the hotel] a few minutes,” he said. “I am not alone. In my office of less than 20 people, I have several colleagues currently in quarantine.”
Another person in Beijing said their entire apartment block had been put into quarantine because a close contact of an infected person lived there.
Authorities have also detained 26 people in Beijing’s Changping district, where the capital’s outbreak is centred, for breaking Covid-19 rules since mid-October.
The draconian policies have had far-reaching implications for China’s interactions with the outside world, ranging from international summits to sports tournaments.
President Xi Jinping has not travelled outside China since January 2020 and sent a written address to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow rather than attend in person.
Lu Xiang, a foreign policy expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said Covid was “the only reason” Xi skipped COP26, as well as last weekend’s G20 leaders’ summit in Rome.
“When the top leader travels, he travels with hundreds of people,” Lu said. “It’s essential to keep [Xi] and other high-level officials safe.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu
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