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China puts 65m people into semi-lockdown ahead of party summit

China has intensified its efforts to rein in outbreaks of Covid-19 ahead of a major political meeting by placing about 65 million people under semi-lockdown, according to local media reports.

The Chinese Communist party will begin its 20th congress on 16 October, with party chief Xi Jinping widely expected to be reinstated as president for a third term.

According to a report on the business portal Caixin, 33 Chinese cities – including eight major provincial and municipal centres – have been placed under China’s lowest “static management” tier of lockdown, disrupting the lives of an estimated 65 million residents.

Measures include the closure of offices, schools, entertainment venues, non-essential shops and services. Office workers and civil servants are required to work from home and students conduct their learning online.

Hospitals remain open but specialist and dental clinics have to close. Pharmacies are banned from selling antibiotics, antiviral drugs and medicines for fever and cough.

The semi-lockdown has been imposed on the affluent southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen – an economic powerhouse that borders Hong Kong – as well as Xining city by the Tibetan Plateau and the northern cities of Shijiazhuang and Harbin.

The western metropolis of Chengdu – with a population of 21 million – the western city of Guiyang, Lhasa in Tibet and Ürümqi in Xinjiang also went into semi-lockdown.

According to the Chinese government website, 349 new cases of Covid were reported on Sunday, giving a total of 6,227 confirmed cases across 31 provinces and municipalities.

Despite China’s relatively low number of cases, authorities have repeatedly committed the country to a zero-Covid policy, despite most of the rest of the world choosing a path of coexistence or mitigation.

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Xi has ordered authorities to balance zero-Covid with economic growth, although reports suggest that Chinese cities with significant areas under lockdown account for 35 percent of the total GDP.

The protracted and often unpredictable measures have angered many ordinary people. Some complain that the repeated lockdowns have affected their livelihood while others express worries over elderly parents being unable to go out without having been tested.

“People might starve to death before they are infected!”, one social media user exclaimed. Another user compared the draconian measures to “a war without gunpowder that no one can evade”.

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