Hong Kong: More than 70 Chinese cities have been placed under full or partial Covid lockdowns since late August, impacting more than 300 million people, as local authorities rush to stamp out infections at all cost in the final countdown to leader Xi Jinpings expected third term, media reports said.
Since August 20, at least 74 cities with a combined population of 313 million have imposed lockdowns that cover entire cities, districts or multiple neighborhoods, according to CNN’s calculations.
They include 15 provincial capitals and Tianjin, a provincial-level municipality, CNN reported.
Many of the restrictions are still in place. According to Chinese financial magazine Caixin, 33 cities are currently under partial or full lockdowns. Experts say more cities are likely to be added in the coming weeks.
The sweeping restrictions that upend lives and businesses stand in stark contrast with the return to normal life in much of the world, where societies have mostly pivoted to living with the virus, CNN reported.
But China insists that zero-Covid is saving lives. Health officials have cited the relatively low elderly vaccination rate and inadequate rural healthcare as hurdles to relaxing restrictions, but Chinese public health experts say political factors have played an outsized role, too.
Xi Jinping, a staunch advocate for the country’s uncompromising zero-Covid strategy, is poised to be anointed as the country’s top leader for another five years at the 20th Party Congress, scheduled to start on October 16.
The highly choreographed affair is meant to be a moment of celebration and vindication of the achievements of the Party — and of Xi personally over his decade in power. And severe outbreak risks are undermining that triumphant image, experts say.
“The Party wants to make sure nothing untoward, such as a major outbreak, could potentially threaten social stability, shadow the leadership transition process � and not to mention tarnish Xi’s personal leadership credibility,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, CNN reported.