China tightens restrictions as virus cases rise reported

BEIJING (AP) — Everyone in a district of 1.8 million people in China’s southern metropolis of Guangzhou was ordered to stay home Saturday for virus tests, and a major city in the southwest closed schools as a new surge in cases was reported.

Nationally, a total of 11,773 infections were detected in the past 24 hours, including 10,351 in people without symptoms, the National Health Commission announced. China’s numbers are low, but the surge last week poses a challenge to a “zero COVID” strategy that aims to isolate every infected person.

Quarantine for travelers arriving in China has been shortened to five days from seven as part of changes to virus checks announced on Friday to reduce costs and disruption. But the ruling Communist Party has said it will stick to “zero COVID” even as other countries ease travel and other restrictions and try to shift to a long-term strategy of living with the virus.

A total of 3,775 infections were detected in Guangzhou, a city of 13 million people, including 2,996 in people who showed no symptoms, according to the NHC. That was an increase from Friday’s total of 3,030, including 2,461 people without symptoms.

People in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district were ordered to stay home on Saturday while the tests were carried out, the district’s government announced on its social media account. One member from each household had the right to buy food.

Guangzhou, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Hong Kong, has closed schools and buses and subways across much of the city as the number of cases rises.

Flights from Guangzhou to the Chinese capital, Beijing, and other major cities were cancelled.

Across the country, people who want to enter supermarkets, office buildings and other public buildings must show negative results of a virus test taken as often as once a day. This allows authorities to detect infections in people without symptoms.

In the southwest, the industrial city of Chongqing closed schools in the Beibei district, which has 840,000 people. Residents were barred from leaving a number of apartment complexes in the Yubei district, but the city gave no indication of how many were affected.

The ruling party earlier this year turned to isolating buildings or neighborhoods where contamination is found instead of its previous approach of suspending access to cities after complaints that it was too costly. However, in cases of epidemics, such restrictions can still be extended to areas with millions of inhabitants.

Public frustration and complaints that residents are sometimes left without access to food or medicine have turned into protests and clashes with local officials in some areas.

Elsewhere, mass testing was also carried out on Saturday in eight districts with a total of 6.6 million people in the central city of Zhengzhou.

Access to a Zhengzhou industrial zone that is home to the world’s largest iPhone factory was suspended last week after the outbreaks. Apple Inc. has warned that deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model will be delayed.

Despite efforts to cushion the damage in the world’s second-largest economy, forecasters said business and consumer activity weakened after growth rebounded to 3.9 percent from a year earlier in the three months ended September 2, 2% of the first semester.

Economists cut their forecasts for China’s annual economic growth to 3 percent, which would be among the slowest in decades.

President Xi Jinping’s government has refused to import foreign vaccines and defied requests for more information about the source of the virus, which was first identified in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Economists and public health experts say “zero COVID” may remain in place for another year. They say millions of elderly people need to be vaccinated before the ruling party can consider lifting controls that keep most foreign visitors out of China.

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