After a senior Communist Party official said that the “zero-covid” policy would remain in place in Beijing “for the next five years,” Chinese censors removed his speech from the Internet.
The misleading quote was made by Beijing’s city party chief, Cai Qi, in Beijing Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper for the Chinese capital.
Cai said on Monday that “for the next five years, Beijing will resolutely implement COVID-19 pandemic control measures and uphold the ‘zero-covid’ policy to prevent imported cases from coming in and domestic cases from rebounding.”
Cai is a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and his “the next five years” remark sparked a huge backlash on Chinese social media.
“I have to rethink whether I should continue to stay in Beijing in the long term,” one user wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
“For the next five years…what is the point of being alive even,” another user said.
In an effort to tame an online backlash, Beijing Daily removed the line, describing it as an “editing error” while leaving his other remarks about pandemic controls intact, reported CNN.
Weibo has since banned the hashtag “for the next five years” from its platform.
While the entire speech and the published quote from Beijing Daily was misleading, Cai did discuss at length the possibility of keeping zero-covid policies in place in the capital over the next five-year period, according to CNN.
The pandemic controls that would stay in place include routine PCR tests, strict entry rules, regular health checks in residential neighbourhoods and public venues, as well as rigorous monitoring and testing for people entering and leaving Beijing, state media quoted Cai as saying.
In early May, Xi doubled down on the zero-covid policy in a meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s top decision-making body, ordering officials and all sectors of society to adhere to the “decisions and plans” of the leadership.
For months, cities across China — including Beijing and Shanghai — have been placed under full or partial lockdown because of the strict zero-covid policy, wreaking havoc on economic activity and hurting the job market. In May, the unemployment rate for people aged 16-24 hit a record high 18.4 percent, reported CNN.
China continues to shut down entire communities and cities over just a handful of covid cases. All positive cases and close contacts are sent to government quarantine.
China reported 23 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases nationwide on Sunday, with Beijing and Shanghai each recording four cases, according to the country’s National Health Commission.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)