China’s daily Covid cases have climbed to the highest since the pandemic began, official data showed on Thursday, even as the government continues a zero-tolerance strategy involving grueling lockdowns and travel restrictions.
The numbers are relatively small compared to China’s huge population of 1.4 billion and the number of cases in the West when the pandemic was at its peak.
But under Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy, even small outbreaks can shut down entire cities and place contacts of infected patients in strict quarantine.
The country recorded 31,454 domestic cases – 27,517 without symptoms – on Wednesday, the National Health Bureau said.
The relentless zero-Covid push has caused weariness and resentment among sections of the population as the pandemic approaches its third anniversary, sparked sporadic protests and hit productivity in the world’s second-largest economy.
On Wednesday, violent protests erupted at Foxconn’s large iPhone factory in central China, with video showing dozens of hazmat-clad staff waving batons and chasing employees.
The latest figures exceed the 29,390 infections recorded in mid-April when the megacity of Shanghai was on lockdown, with residents struggling to buy food and access medical care.
Several cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing have tightened Covid restrictions as cases rise.
The capital now requires a negative PCR test result within 48 hours for those who want to enter public places such as shopping malls, hotels and government buildings, Beijing authorities said. Schools across the city have moved to online courses.
The southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou – where almost a third of the latest Covid cases were found – has built thousands of temporary hospital rooms to accommodate patients.
A series of new rules announced by the central government earlier this month appeared to signal a shift away from zero-Covid, easing quarantine requirements to enter the country and simplifying a system for designating high-risk areas.
But China has yet to approve more effective mRNA vaccines for general use, and only 85 percent of adults over 60 had received two doses of domestic vaccines by mid-August, according to health officials.
And Shijiazhuang, a city bordering Beijing that was seen as a pilot to test reopening strategies, reversed most of its reliefs this week.
“The road to reopening could be slow, costly and bumpy,” Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, said in a note.
“Full Shanghai-style lockdowns can be avoided, but they could be replaced by more frequent partial lockdowns in an increasing number of cities due to rising numbers of Covid cases.”