By Martin Quin Pollard and David Stanway
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) -China’s capital Beijing closed more businesses and residential compounds on Friday, with authorities ramping up contact tracing to contain a COVID-19 outbreak, while resentment at the month-long lockdown in Shanghai grew.
In the finance hub, fenced-in people have been protesting against the lockdown and difficulties in obtaining provisions by banging on pots and pans in the evenings, according to a Reuters witness and residents.
A video shared on social media, whose authenticity could not be immediately verified, showed a woman warning people via a loud-hailer not to do so, saying such gestures were being encouraged by “outsiders.”
The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Beijing, authorities were in a race against time to detect COVID cases and isolate those who have been around them.
A sign placed outside a residential complex read “Entry only. No exit.”
Polish resident Joanna Szklarska, 51, was sent to a quarantine hotel as a close contact, but she refused to share the room, which had only one bed, with her neighbour.
She was sent back home, where authorities installed a front door alarm. Then she was called back to the hotel, where she now has her own room.
“Nothing makes sense here,” the English-language consultant said by phone.
At a regular press conference on Friday, Chinese health officials did not respond to questions on whether Beijing will go under lockdown or what circumstances might prompt such measures.
The severe curbs in China have appeared surreal to many parts of the world where people have chosen to live with the virus.
And the frequent signs of frustration among citizens will be uncomfortable for China’s ruling Communist Party, especially as President Xi Jinping is widely expected to secure a third leadership term this fall.
Nomura estimates 46 cities are currently in full or partial lockdowns, affecting 343 million people. Societe Generale estimates that provinces experiencing significant mobility restrictions account for 80% of China’s economic output.
New COVID cases in Beijing remain in the dozens, officials said on Friday, a far cry from Shanghai’s numbers.
In Beijing’s Chaoyang district, the first to undergo mass testing this week, started the last of three rounds of screening on Friday among its 3.5 million residents. Most other districts are due for their third round of tests on Saturday.
More apartment blocks were sealed, preventing residents from leaving, and certain spas, KTV lounges, gyms, cinemas and libraries and at least two shopping malls closed on Friday.
People who had recently visited venues in areas authorities declared as “at risk” have received text messages telling them to stay put until they get their test results.
“Hello citizens! You have recently visited the beef noodles & braised chicken shop in Guanghui Li community,” one such text read. “Please report to your compound or hotel immediately, stay put and wait for the notification of nucleic acid testing.”
“If you violate the above requirements and cause the epidemic to spread, you will bear legal responsibility.”
The April 30-May 4 Labour Day break is one of China’s busiest tourist seasons, and the travel industry is taking losses.
Companies reopening factories in Shanghai are booking hotel rooms to house workers and turning vacant workshops into on-site isolation facilities as authorities urge them to resume work under COVID curbs.
Many foreigners want to flee mainland China’s most cosmopolitan city.
In response to COVID and other headwinds, China will step up policy support for the economy, a top decision-making body of the Communist Party said on Friday, lifting stocks from recent two-year lows.
Details were scarce, but markets reacted to a shift in messaging away from the single-focus on COVID, analysts say.
“Now the goal is to balance containing outbreaks and economic growth,” said Zhiwei Zhang, president of Pinpoint Asset Management, who expects China’s economy to contract in the second quarter.
“This suggests the government may fine-tune the ‘zero tolerance’ policy to allow some flexibility.”
Chinese authorities say fighting COVID is vital to save lives.
“The battle against the COVID epidemic is a war, a war of resistance, a people’s war,” said Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission’s COVID response panel.
In Shanghai, authorities said more people have been gradually allowed in principle to leave their homes recently. More than 12 million, nearly half the population, are now in that category.
Still, many cannot leave their compounds, while those who can have few places to go as shops and other venues are closed. Often one of the 52,000 police mobilised for the lockdown asks them to return home.
Many residents have grumbled at the inflexible policing, which sometimes does not take into account health emergencies or other individual circumstances.
“Some individual policemen…are emotional or mechanical,” Shu Qing, head of the Municipal Public Security Bureau, told reporters, admitting “shortcomings.”
(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, David Stanway, Brenda Goh, Tony Munroe, Roxanne Liu, Albee Zhang, Wang Yifan, and the Beijing and Shanghai bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Simon Cameron-Moore)