China zero-Covid policy: Censors scrub internet after senior official’s speech on Beijing timetable

Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese capital’s Communist Party, previously reported that the city’s party chief Cai Qi said on Monday that “Beijing will resolutely implement measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in the next five years and the ‘Zero-Covid’ policy to prevent imported cases from arriving and domestic cases from recovering.

The reported reference to “the next five years” by Cai, who is a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, sparked a huge backlash on Chinese social media. In response, Beijing Daily removed the line, describing it as an “editing error,” while leaving intact its other remarks on pandemic control.

CNN reviewed the entire speech, and although Beijing Daily’s published quote was misleading, Cai discussed at length the possibility of maintaining a zero-Covid policy in the capital over the next five years.

The pandemic controls that would remain in place include routine PCR tests, strict entry requirements, regular health checks in neighborhoods and public facilities, and strict surveillance and testing for people entering and leaving Beijing, Cai quoted state media as saying.

“I have to reconsider staying in Beijing long-term,” wrote a user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

“For the next five years… what’s the point of being alive anyway,” said another user.

Weibo has since banned the hashtag from its platform “for the next five years.”

WHO chief has censored China's internet after calling zero-Covid unsustainable

In early May, Xi doubled down on the zero-Covid policy at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, the country’s top decision-making body, and ordered officials and all sectors of society to abide by the Communist Party’s “decisions and plans.” Guide.

US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said in an online event hosted by the Brookings Institution on June 16 that he expects China to maintain its zero-Covid policy until “the early months of 2023,” based on Chinese government signals.

For months, cities across China — including Beijing and Shanghai — have been in full or partial lockdown because of the strict zero-Covid policy, devastating economic activity and hurting jobs. In May, the unemployment rate for people aged 16 to 24 hit a record high of 18.4%.

China continues to shut down entire communities and cities over just a handful of Covid cases. All positive cases and close contacts are being sent to state quarantine.

China on Sunday reported 23 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases nationwide, with Beijing and Shanghai each recording four cases, according to the country’s National Health Commission.