- Shanghai asks some to stay at home, not to receive deliveries
- Part of the push to eliminate infection by late May – sources
- The Chinese capital, Beijing, imposes the most severe restrictions so far
- Lawyers question the legality of the crackdown as anger grows
- China’s export growth weakest in two years, the currency is falling
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s two largest cities tightened COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, raising public concern and even questions about the legitimacy of its tough battle with the virus that has hit the world’s second largest economy.
In Shanghai, as the sixth week of the lockdown continued, authorities launched a new campaign to end infections outside quarantine areas by late May, according to people familiar with the matter. Read more
Although there was no official announcement, residents in at least four of Shanghai’s 16 districts received notices over the weekend that they were not allowed to leave their homes or receive deliveries, leading to a scramble for food stockpiling.
Register now to get free unlimited access to Reuters.com
Some of these people were previously allowed to move around in their apartment complexes.
“go home!” A woman shouted over a megaphone at residents mingling under an apartment building affected by the new restrictions on Sunday, a sight that could baffle other regions of the world that have chosen to open up and coexist with the virus.
“It was like a prison,” said Koko Wang, a Shanghai resident living under the new restrictions. “We are not afraid of the virus. We are afraid of this policy.”
Meanwhile, in Beijing’s toughest restrictions to date, a district in the southwest of the capital on Monday banned residents from leaving their neighborhoods and ordered a halt to all activities not related to virus prevention.
In other virus-hit areas of Beijing, residents were told to work from home, some restaurants and public transportation were closed, and additional roads, parks and parks were closed on Monday.
The restrictions have taken a heavy toll on the Chinese economy.
Data on Monday showed China’s export growth slowed to its weakest in nearly two years, as the central bank pledged to ramp up support for the sluggish economy. Read more
The slow data drove the Chinese yuan to a 19-month low against the US dollar.
In a stark sign of business stress, the China Automobile Association estimated that sales last month fell a staggering 48% year-on-year as COVID restrictions closed factories and slashed domestic demand.
The restrictions have also sparked rare expressions of public anger, further fueled by recent online accounts of Shanghai authorities forcing neighbors of those infected with the coronavirus into central quarantine and requiring them to hand over the keys to their homes for disinfection.
One of the videos showed police opening a lock after a resident refused to open a door.
In another case, an audio recording of an internet call circulated of a woman arguing with officials demanding they spray disinfectant in her home even though she tested negative. Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the videos.
Professor Tong Qiu, Professor of Law at East China University of Political Science and Law, wrote in an article widely circulated on social media on Sunday that such acts are illegal and must stop.
Liu Dali, a lawyer from one of China’s largest law firms, wrote a similar letter to the authorities.
Copies of both speeches were blocked from the Chinese Internet. Posts from Tong’s social media account were blocked on Weibo late Sunday.
Liu and Tong did not respond to requests for comment.
China is adamant that it will stick to its COVID-free policy to combat the disease that first emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, warning against criticism of a policy they say saves lives.
They point to the rising death toll in other countries that have relaxed or eliminated restrictions altogether, in an effort to “coexist with COVID” despite the spread of infection.
Beijing had hoped to avoid the weeks of lockdown that Shanghai has endured, but the growing number of apartment buildings subject to lockdown orders is worrying residents.
“I’ve already been working from home, but I’m afraid I may run out of daily supplies,” said a 28-year-old woman in Changping District in northern Beijing who surnamed Wang after being prevented from leaving her apartment complex on Monday.
In response to questions by Reuters about the recent restrictions in Shanghai, the municipal government there “must insist on regulating the flow of people and controlling their movement” and that each district was allowed to tighten measures according to its own situation.
On Monday, Shanghai recorded a decline in new cases for the 10th consecutive day.
But the retreat did not ease tensions on the ground.
One of the videos widely circulated online showed a group of Shanghai residents confronting police officers and security personnel about whether their crackdown measures were legal.
“I have not once heard that if there is a single confirmed case in a single compound or apartment building, then there is a need to take extreme measures to lock up people like criminals,” one resident said in the recording.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the authenticity of the video, which was later removed from social networking site WeChat.
Register now to get free unlimited access to Reuters.com
Additional reporting by Brenda Goh, Zhang Yan, Winnie Zhou, David Stanway, Martin Quinn Pollard, Beijing Editorial Room; Writing by Ryan Wu and John Geddy; Editing by Mark Heinrich
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”