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On Monday, China reported 1,437 cases in dozens of cities. That’s a fourfold increase in just one week. On Monday, various news outlets reported that the total number of Chinese citizens under lockdown had risen to 51 million.
As a result, Beijing has declared a state of emergency in the northeastern province of Jilin, home to 24 million people. Furthermore, the southern cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan, which have populations of 17.5 million and 10 million, respectively, have been sealed off in recent days.
Beijing is discovering the hard way that its “COVID Zero” approach to fighting the virus has serious drawbacks.
While the United States and Europe continue to relax their restrictions, a growing number of Chinese citizens are subjected to draconian lockdowns similar to those imposed on Wuhan during the outbreak’s early days two years ago.
Although the record number of new cases reported is putting China’s zero-tolerance policy to the test, there is no indication that the country’s leadership is considering abandoning the policy entirely.
The Shenzhen lockdown threatens manufacturing and technology production in a city that is home to Huawei and Tencent, as well as one of the country’s main ports. The Shenzhen lockdown has already forced Apple supplier Foxconn to halt iPhone production, weighing on Apple shares earlier Monday.
While the lockdowns were initially set to last a week, authorities can always choose to extend them.
The latest outbreak, according to Shanghai-based virologist Zhang Wenhong, is “the most difficult moment in the past two years” of China’s efforts to eradicate the virus. Shanghai, China’s financial capital, has avoided a full-fledged lockdown so far, but it is subject to some restrictions.
Many believe the most recent outbreak in mainland China likely crossed the border from Hong Kong, where case numbers have risen dramatically in recent weeks, prompting authorities to impose lockdowns and build thousands of makeshift quarantine beds.
Mandatory quarantines and other strict anti-COVID measures have already taken their toll on the mental health of Chinese citizens: as of mid-morning Monday in the Eastern US, police reported three suicide attempts at one quarantine “camp” in the previous day.