BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Beijing shut scores of metro stations and bus routes and extended COVID-19 curbs on many public venues on Wednesday, focusing efforts to avoid the fate of Shanghai, where millions have been under strict lockdown for more than a month.
The central city of Zhengzhou earlier also announced restrictions, joining dozens of big population centres under some form of lockdown as China seeks to eliminate a virus believed to have first emerged in Wuhan city in late 2019.
But that uncompromising battle is undermining its growth and hurting international companies invested there, data shows, and has also fuelled rare public outbursts of discontent.
With dozens of new cases a day, Beijing is hoping mass testing will find and isolate the virus before it spreads. Twelve of 16 city districts held the second of three rounds of tests this week.
The city of 22 million on Wednesday shut more than 60 subway stations, about 15% of the network, and 158 bus routes, service providers said, most in the Chaoyang district at the epicentre of Beijing’s outbreak. Beijing officials also said closures of schools, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues – as well as some businesses and residential buildings – would extend beyond the April 30- May 4 Labour Day break, without giving a timeframe.
Residents were encouraged to work from home from Thursday, rather than return to offices where possible.
Late on Tuesday Zhengzhou, home to 12.6 million people and a factory of Apple’s iPhone manufacturer Foxconn, announced work-from-home and other COVID curbs for the coming week. Foxconn said on Wednesday it was continuing production there.
PROTEST VIA BLOCKCHAIN
In Shanghai, meanwhile, a full lockdown remains in force.
After more than a month, most people in mainland China’s biggest city still cannot leave their housing compounds.
Some have benefited from a tentative easing of restrictions since Sunday, with usually just one member of a household allowed out for a stroll and grocery shopping.
Latest data showed Shanghai found 63 new cases outside areas under the strictest curbs, suggesting it has a way to go before reaching the goal of no cases for several days for curbs to ease significantly.
The isolation has led to a cat-and-mouse game between censors and social media users striving to keep evidence of the hardship circulating. Some have turned to blockchain technology to protect videos, photos and artwork on the topic from deletion.
Such acts of defiance are awkward for the ruling Communist Party in a year in which President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a third leadership term.
GROWTH FORECAST CUT
Authorities say their zero-COVID policy aims to save lives, pointing to the millions killed by the virus outside China, where many countries are adopting a “live with COVID” strategy amid spreading infections.
But the policy is hurting domestic consumption and output, disrupting global supply chains and shrinking revenues for international brands including Apple, Gucci parent Kering and Taco Bell-owner Yum China. Capital Economics estimated COVID had spread to areas generating 40% of China’s output and 80% of its exports, while Fitch Ratings cut its 2022 GDP growth forecast to 4.3% from 4.8%, well below China’s official 5.5% target.
Numerous factories were shut after Shanghai went into lockdown from March. While some have started reopening, getting workers back and unsnarling supply chains has proven difficult.
In the city’s Lingang free trade zone area, 252 firms, or 52% of the total, had resumed work as of May 3, the Xinhua news agency reported. Authorities were subsidising the screening of workers for COVID, and providing rent relief, it said.
International trade is also facing disruption.
A Royal Bank of Canada study found a fifth of the global container ship fleet was stuck in ports.
At Shanghai’s port, 344 ships were awaiting berth, a 34% increase over the past month. Shipping something from a warehouse in China to one in the United States takes 74 days longer than usual, the study said.
(Reporting Aizhu Chen, Hou Xiangming, Brenda Goh and the Beijing and Shanghai bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel and John Stonestreet)