China’s COVID cases to smash records as video shows workers rebel

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Chinese authorities are imposing new restrictions across the country as the April spike in infections appears to be surging.

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Taipei, Taiwan – The number of COVID-19 cases in China is rapidly approaching an all-time high, signaling more pain for the world’s second-largest economy as hopes of a quick exit from Beijing’s draconian “COVID zero” policy fade.

The National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 29,157 infections across the country in the previous day, close to the peak in April.

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China’s daily workload peaked at 29,411 on April 13, with Shanghai under severe lockdown for weeks, causing food shortages and occasional social unrest.

The rise in cases comes after a video circulated on social media on Wednesday showed fresh worker unrest at Apple supplier Foxconn’s massive manufacturing plant in the industrial city of Zhengzhou.

In footage posted on Kuaishou’s video platform, people can be seen smashing security cameras and windows, tearing down barriers and arguing with officials in hazmat suits while shouting their paychecks.

Numerous former Foxconn workers have complained about food shortages and draconian quarantine rules on the campus, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory. Reuters news agency said two sources with knowledge of the matter confirmed the protests at the Zhengzhou site but declined to provide further details.

More than half of Wednesday’s cases, including more than 26,400 infections classified as asymptomatic, were reported in Guangzhou and Chongqing, metropolitan areas in southern and central China, respectively, which are home to more than 35 million people.

In Beijing, where authorities have closed schools, tightened testing requirements and restricted movement in and out of the city, the number of infections has reached a new peak of 1,486.

Shanghai and Zhengzhou, both of which are battling small outbreaks, also saw an increase in cases compared to the previous day.

Guangzhou began a five-day lockdown on Monday after similar measures earlier this month that led to rare public protests, while the southwestern city of Chengdu began a new round of mass testing on Wednesday.

The restrictions are a fresh blow to China’s slow economic recovery and are cooling anti-COVID expectations after the announcement of separate plans to ease restrictions and revitalize the ailing real estate sector briefly sparked positive buzz on Wall Street.

China is pursuing an ultra-strict “COVID zero” strategy as the rest of the world lives with the virus. [File: Tingshu Wang/Reuters]

“I feel that [the optimism] will be short-lived because the market has been struggling. The October data was literally terrible, but because they had these two important announcements, they couldn’t just bypass them,” Natixis chief Asia Pacific economist Alicia Garcia-Herrero told Al Jazeera, referring to economic plans.

“However, November will be just as terrible because the opening didn’t happen.”

The Chinese economy is expected to struggle to achieve 3 percent growth in 2022, one of the weakest performances in decades. Gross domestic product (GDP) officially rose 3.9% between July and September, after rising just 0.4% in the second quarter.

Garcia-Herrero said one key metric to watch is mobility, which remains low in all of China’s major cities except Shanghai, leading to lower consumer spending and investment. Export growth was also negative in October, down 0.3% year-on-year for the first time since June 2020 due to COVID-19-related restrictions as well as falling demand outside of China, according to Natixis.

China is now in something of a Catch-22, Garcia-Herrero said, as rebuilding its economy requires increased mobility, but easing restrictions would lead to a sharp increase in deaths, especially among the elderly.

The country has struggled to vaccinate its elderly population: only 66 percent of people aged 80 and over have been vaccinated, among whom only 40 percent have received a booster.

Studies have also shown that the domestic Chinese vaccine Sinovac is less effective in preventing severe diseases than its mRNA counterparts.

Even if China is able to boost vaccination rates and transition to life with the virus, exiting “COVID zero” won’t solve China’s economic woes overnight, said Carsten Holz, an economist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who described the tough strategy as “a double whammy for the economy.” “.

“While COVID-19 restrictions are in place, they are hindering production, creating supply chain disruptions and disrupting retail sales,” Holtz told Al Jazeera. “When COVID-related restrictions are finally lifted, the economy goes through multiple adjustment cycles, leading to even more disruption and instability. Meanwhile, some foreign demand could also leave the PRC forever. [People’s Republic of China]”.

“Coexistence with the Virus”

According to economists, China’s modest economic recovery in the third quarter also does not give much hope for a strong end to the year.

Much of the country’s recent growth has been driven by the public sector rather than private consumption, as trust between foreign and private firms on the ground remains “undermined” due to “zero COVID.

“When we think about where growth comes from, the economy becomes more and more unbalanced,” Marro told Al Jazeera. “If you look at the last two years, you will see that significant growth has come from investment and exports, not from private consumption, because ‘COVID zero’ just wiped out retail and just wiped out private consumption.”

Notably, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, whose revenue has been stagnant in recent months, did not disclose sales data for the Nov. 11 public holiday this month, an event that generated $84.5 billion in sales in 2021.

Apple supplier Foxconn has also struggled to manufacture the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max at its massive Zhengzhou factory following a spike in infections that forced the company to close its plant earlier this month.

Marro said the plant closure showed the limits of “COVID zero” even as companies try to diversify manufacturing sites, but also how far Beijing must go to convince people to live with the virus.

“Which… interestingly, we saw an exodus of people leaving Zhengzhou and there was some discussion that the conditions in the hostels were so bad because of ‘zero COVID’, but it also seemed like people were fleeing because they were literally afraid of getting infected. virus,” he said.

“I think this is a great illustration of the fact that the government has done nothing to show that COVID is not as bad as it used to be. Even if the government wants to lift the COVID zero protocols, the population itself may still be very, very hesitant to accept it and move itself towards that coexistence with the virus.”

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