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China COVID-19 cases hit record as dissent grows over tough restrictions

China has reported a record number of daily COVID-19 infections, as a nationwide surge in cases heaps pressure on the country’s increasingly unpopular zero-tolerance approach to the virus.

The National Health Commission (NHC) recorded 31,444 locally transmitted cases on Wednesday – surpassing the previous peak of 29,317 recorded on April 13 during Shanghai’s months-long lockdown.

The surge is being fuelled by outbreaks in multiple cities and comes despite a refusal by authorities to end tight infection controls even in the face of an increasing – and unprecedented – backlash against their hardline approach of incessant lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing mandates.

An epidemic control worker wears a protective suit as he rides a shared bike across a nearly empty street near the Central Business District on November 24, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, a trickle of COVID-related fatalities has added further pressure to the mix.

Beijing on Wednesday recorded its fourth COVID-related death since last weekend, alongside 1648 local infections – its third consecutive day of more than 1000 local cases.

Yesterday, city officials said they were converting a major exhibition centre into a makeshift hospital for the quarantine and treatment of COVID-19 patients.

That was just the latest sign of the capital ratcheting up COVID-19 controls.

Earlier this week, schools in several districts moved classes online while Chaoyang – epicentre of the city’s outbreak and home to many international businesses and embassies – urged residents to stay at home and shuttered restaurants, gyms and beauty salons.

Epidemic control workers wear protective suits as they walk by a barrier fence to their duty in an area with communities under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on November 24, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

China, the world’s last major economy still enforcing strict zero-COVID-19 measures, announced a limited easing of the policy earlier this month in what some observers saw as a sign of the government acknowledging its shortfalls.

It discouraged unnecessary mass testing and overly zealous classification of restricted “high risk” areas, scrapped quarantine requirements for secondary close contacts, and reduced quarantine for close contacts and international arrivals.

Following the announcement, several Chinese cities cancelled mass COVID-19 tests, but there remains a dizzying array of restrictions for residents to navigate – especially when outbreaks occur.

Signs that people have had enough are becoming increasingly dramatic and rare protests have broken out in a country where authorities traditionally clamp down on any signs of dissent.

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Protests erupted this week at the world’s biggest iPhone assembly factory, in the city of Zhengzhou.

Videos on social media showed workers confronting riot police after authorities attempted to lock down the facility following an outbreak.

It comes a week after some residents in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou revolted against an extended lockdown by tearing down barriers and marching down streets.

Fuelling the anger of citizens trapped in lockdowns are recurring issues like being unable to access prompt medical care or secure enough food and supplies, or losing work and income.

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