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China uses cops, social media censors, quiet Covid easing to stem protests

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Chinese authorities are responding to protests against stringent Covid curbs with a heavy police presence, censorship on social media and some quiet concessions even as the country’s outbreak continues to flare.


The unrest triggered by a deadly fire in the city of Urumqi last week sputtered Monday night, with Beijing deploying a heavy police presence to clamp down on protests. Cities including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing and elsewhere saw fewer demonstrations, while censorship of protest-related discussions ramped up across social media platforms that had been used to vent public anger.


Some concessions have quietly emerged. People who stay home don’t need frequent Covid tests, the state news agency said on Tuesday, a retrenchment from the previous reliance on mass testing to track the virus. The elderly and students taking online classes were exempted from daily tests in Guangzhou. Movement restrictions imposed in Beijing to trace the source of Covid or identify those infected generally must not exceed 24 hours, officials said.


The Hang Seng Enterprises Index erased Monday’s drop, led by property developers, after the government eased some financing restrictions for the industry. Stocks associated with economic reopening also climbed as some investors speculated the protests may hasten a shift away from Covid Zero policies.


Heavy Police Presence Thwarts Another Night of Protests


China’s total case count remains elevated, with the National Health Commission reporting 37,477 infections for Monday. There were 8,721 cases found in the country’s most populous city, Chongqing, while the tally in the capital city Beijing hit a record 4,370 new local infections.


The US embassy urged Americans in to keep two weeks’ worth of medications, water and food on hand due to expanded Covid prevention and control measures, according to a statement late Monday.


While the concessions to strict Covid Zero policies are minor, changes over the past few days have given hope to market watchers.


Chengdu halted construction of a quarantine facility that aimed to accommodate tens of thousands of people, according to local media reports, raising speculation about a potential retreat from mass quarantine policies. Many housing compounds in Beijing lifted lockdowns after residents confronted local staff about excessive restrictions.

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