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Far from “zero-COVID,” cases in China are soaring, and so is frustration with the government’s tactics

Beijing — The draconian “zero-COVID” policy that China has long touted as a scientific and effective countermeasure against the global coronavirus pandemic seems to be failing. Authorities reported record high COVID-19 case numbers in mainland China for the second consecutive day Friday.

32,695 new infections were recorded on Thursday, the highest figure since the virus was first detected in central China’s Wuhan province at the end of 2019. The surging caseload has prompted new and spreading residential lockdowns, and business shutdowns in multiple major cities.

While the soaring infections raise serious questions about the success of the measures implemented by the ruling Communist Party, with the stated goal of eradicating the disease completely, the number is dwarfed by cases in many other developed nations.

The U.S. logged 36,030 new cases on Thursday, with a population only around a quarter the size of China’s.

But Beijing is sticking to its guns. Rather than accepting higher infection rates while relying on vaccines to keep hospitalizations and serious cases down, like the U.S. and other major economies, authorities in China are bolstering attempts to stamp out the virus entirely.

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Even as the efforts increasingly appear futile, officials in cities across the vast nation have been touting plans to build more isolation facilities.

Under the tenets of zero-COVID, which has become the signature policy of President Xi Jinping, anyone who’s infected and even their close contacts are forced into isolation in a bid to eliminate any spread of the highly infectious virus. 

The approach has been difficult for locked-down residents — and shuttered businesses — in China to bear, especially as other countries seem to be co-existing with the disease.

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Japanese financial service firm Nomura estimates that areas currently under lockdown have historically produced more than a fifth of China’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The refusal of China’s leaders to significantly adjust their approach to the pandemic has drawn a mounting public pushback — something which in itself is uncommon in the tightly-controlled society.

People in personal protective equipment (PPE) and residents wait to be swabbed for the COVID-19 at a testing site in Beijing, China, November 25, 2022.


Although censored inside the country, videos have made it onto foreign social media networks and messaging apps, revealing a rise of defiant voices.

A resident in Chongqing, a megacity in western China where residents have suffered weeks of on-and-off lockdowns in different areas, is seen in one video shouting: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” in a passionate speech quoting one of America’s founding fathers outside what appears to be one of the city’s residential compounds.

In Guangzhou, where lockdowns have been in place since the beginning of November, fed-up locals were seen (above) throwing bars torn off the flimsy metal barricades set up to keep them from moving around their own community.

In the far-western part of the country, a fire killed 10 people in a residential building in the city of Urumqi, where partial lockdowns have been in place for more than 100 days. Social media videos showed fire trucks struggling to enter the compound as fences set up to keep residents in, kept the fire crews out for hours.

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