The Chinese authorities are tightening coronavirus restrictions in Shanghai and Beijing, heeding a message from the country’s top leader to double down on the zero-Covid strategy.
In Shanghai, where residents have been under lockdown since April 1, private food delivery services were being suspended in some neighborhoods despite cases falling to a six-week low. Some residents were told not to step outside their homes, and that the government would help deliver groceries.
In Beijing, where the daily case count rose to 74 on Monday, officials announced that schools would be closed indefinitely, and many of the city’s office workers have been told to work from home. Other cities around China continue to pursue various forms of partial or full lockdown.
The tightening comes even as China’s daily count was at its lowest since mid-March, with a nationwide total of 3,426 new cases reported on Monday. Local officials have been on high alert, however, since the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, urged the country to persist with a strategy of eradicating the virus and to allow no criticism of the approach. Now alone in its zero-Covid strategy, China has used its success in keeping infections and deaths low to claim that its mode of centralized governance gives priority to saving lives compared with democracies that have had more Covid deaths.
When asked about China’s policies at a news briefing on Tuesday, the leader of the World Health Organization criticized the country’s approach.
“We don’t think that it’s sustainable considering the behavior of the virus now, and what we anticipate in the future,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We know a lot about that virus and we have better tools. So these are the additional opportunities that we have to make a shift.”
City life remained at a standstill on Tuesday in Shanghai, where the last two subway lines that had continued to run during the citywide lockdown ceased operations.
City residents also reported being told that they could be sent to government isolation facilities if anyone in their building was infected with the coronavirus. Before, only those living on the same floor as someone who tested positive had been required to go to a government facility.
The rigid policy is drawing more complaints and small pockets of protest that have bubbled up online, and there have been accounts of residents being roughed up by pandemic workers.
In his message last week, Mr. Xi urged officials not to tolerate criticism.
Videos of neighborhood protests and conflicts between residents and health workers in Shanghai have been posted on Chinese social media and quickly scrubbed. Dissenting voices are also swiftly silenced. An economist who warned of economic consequences had his public social media accounts frozen. An article by a law professor saying that forcing people who tested positive to go to hospitals was a violation of law was scrubbed; his social media account was also suspended.
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Residents have expressed fears about being sent to a government facility, where conditions can be dire. Videos of police and health workers dragging people from their apartments have circulated widely online before being censored.
In one widely shared video verified by The New York Times, a man in a hazmat suit approaches the window of a resident, pointing his finger at her and demanding that she go talk to police officers at her door.
The woman is then seen trying to talk to the men through her front door, but several of them break down the door and force their way in. The woman repeatedly asks the officers to prove that she has tested positive before they take her to an isolation facility. They tell her that she has violated Covid prevention policies and that they have an order from the disease prevention agency to transfer her to an isolation facility. As the exchange becomes heated, she takes out her phone to call the police.
One of the men replies, “If you called police, I’d still be the one coming.”
Isabelle Qian and Adeel Hassancontributed reporting, and Claire Fu contributed research.