As countries around the world begin to loosen COVID-19 restrictions and reopen borders to resume quarantine-free travel, authorities in China have doubled down on the country’s stringent “zero-COVID” regulations.
On March 11, the Pazhou Exhibition Center in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou was placed into total lockdown after a close contact was apparently found to have visited the venue. The decision resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being confined inside the building and forced to undergo nucleic acid testing.
Unofficial reports from various sources on social media claim that the visitor had a red health code and had used someone else’s phone in order to access the venue. Health authorities in China have enacted an e-passport system to monitor each person’s health condition and access medical records as well as travel history.
Individuals with green health codes are allowed to move freely. Those with yellow or red codes are not allowed to visit public places such as supermarkets, hotels, restaurants etc. The affected individual has to then report all close contacts to health authorities, undergo quarantine and several nucleic acid tests before they can be cleared and given a green status again.
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The unidentified visitor had reportedly traveled from Shenzhen, where a spike in new COVID cases has authorities scrambling to lock down certain parts of the city and curb further spread of the virus.
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The incident occurred inside the Pazhou Exhibition Center, also known as the Canton Fair complex – one of the largest exhibition centers in Asia spanning over 300,000 square meters (about 74 acres). After the lockdown was imposed, the Guangzhou Municipal Bureau of Commerce issued an emergency notice on March 11 announcing that all exhibitions and activities in Guangzhou City would be suspended until further notice.
The statement read, “Due to the complexity and severity of the current epidemic situation, all exhibition activities in Guangzhou will be suspended from today. The exhibition organizers are requested to communicate with exhibitors and buyers to avoid conflicts and disputes. We will keep an eye on the development of the epidemic and release further information in a timely manner.”
Waiting hours to undergo testing
On March 12, the Guangzhou Municipal Government held a press conference on pandemic prevention and control and said the infected individual was reportedly linked to 20 key venues — including the Canton Fair Complex — resulting in approximately 49,000 people inside the venue forced to undergo nucleic acid testing before being allowed to leave.
One netizen who was inside the complex at the time the lockdown was imposed wrote on social media that security guards begun sealing the center at about 1pm on March 11. “It was broadcasted that the center was sealed and under control. I waited for the nucleic acid test for seven hours.” Many users took to social media to express their frustrations at having to wait hours to undergo testing. “The complex was crowded and chaotic. The management system was very poorly done.”
“What happened on March 11, 2022 was like a trip to hell,” another user wrote. “Tens of thousands of people had to do nucleic acid testing. I queued for six hours, witnessing several quarrels and fights. One fight took place less than one meter (3.3 feet) away from me.”
Entire cities locked down for weeks on end
In its drive to completely eradicate the pandemic from China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has placed entire cities into lockdowns for weeks on end after only a handful of cases are detected. In December 2021, authorities placed the northwestern city of Xi’an, home to roughly 13 million, into a strict lockdown lasting over three weeks. Other metropolis’ such as Shenzhen and Xiamen have also been placed into partial lockdowns in recent weeks.
During the lengthy lockdown, residents in Xi’an took to social media to voice complaints about brutal or extreme treatment by local officials or hospital staff after being barricaded inside their homes for weeks on end and facing dwindling supplies of food and essentials. Some residents even reported loved ones dying after being denied medical attention due to the country’s strict COVID measures.
Although the pandemic has claimed millions of lives worldwide and caused catastrophic economic losses for some countries, Chinese authorities claim slightly over 101,000 infections and less than 5,000 deaths nationwide — hailing its “zero COVID” policies as instrumental.
Despite this claim, there has been considerable doubt cast over the veracity of these figures as well as the effectiveness of Beijing’s stringent lockdown policies and quarantine measures. These policies have included disinfection theatrics, draconian lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions to sustain China’s illusion of curbing the pandemic’s spread — oftentimes resulting in tragedy and violence.
The heavy-handed measures have also brought enormous strain to the national economy, social life, and psychological health of residents in China.