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China’s Covid cases hit record as dissent grows over tough restrictions

<i>Kevin Frayer/Getty Images</i><br/>An epidemic control worker wears protective clothing to protect against the spread of COVID-19 as she stands in a nearly empty street in the Central Business District on November 23
Getty Images
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
An epidemic control worker wears protective clothing to protect against the spread of COVID-19 as she stands in a nearly empty street in the Central Business District on November 23

By CNN’s Beijing Bureau and Kathleen Magramo

China on Thursday reported a record number of daily Covid 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 April 13 during Shanghai’s months-long lockdown.

The surge is being fueled 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.

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 1,648 local infections — its third consecutive day of more than 1,000 local cases.

On Thursday, city officials said they were converting a major exhibition center into a makeshift hospital for the quarantine and treatment of Covid patients.

That was just the latest sign of the capital ratcheting up Covid controls. Earlier this week, schools in several districts moved classes online while Chaoyang — epicenter 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.

Growing dissent

China, the world’s last major economy still enforcing strict zero-Covid 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 canceled mass Covid 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.

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.

Fueling 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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CNN’s Michelle Toh and Nectar Gan contributed to this report.

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