Ahead of the main congress, ‘rare’ banners were put up in China calling for the ouster of Xi Jinping

Beijing: A rare protest against Chinese President Xi Jinping and his government’s rigid zero-covid policy took place in Beijing days before he is expected to win an unprecedented third term in office at a landmark rally of the ruling Communist Party. Photos circulated in social media on Thursday showed two banners hung on an overpass of a major artery in the northwest of the Chinese capital, protesting Xi’s unpopular zero-covid policy and authoritarian rule. Unfazed by the rare protests, China on Thursday ruled out a rollback of its zero-COVID policy, saying no timeline can be established on restrictions to fight the deadly pandemic amid growing frustration at the damage it is doing. to jobs, businesses, the economy and public life.

China has no timetable for an exit from its COVID strategy, a senior government adviser who heads an expert panel on state-run CCTV said bluntly, hoping the 20th Congress of China’s ruling Communist Party (CPC) starting here on October 16 may change or reverse the hard policy.

Liang Wannian, head of China’s expert panel on COVID-19, said: “It is scientifically not possible to delineate clearly, while acknowledging public expectations of a policy rollback in the run-up to Congress, which was widely expected to it would grant a third term to President Xi, who is a staunch supporter of the zero-COVID policy.

“We have been working to beat the pandemic, but at this stage it is difficult from a scientific point of view to say definitively in what month we will have reached this standard,” he said through the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post on Thursday.

His comments came as rare protests appeared on social media with banners expressing resentment over the zero-COVID policy.

Banners on a bridge in Haidian district, home to universities and technology companies in Beijing, read “Food, not COVID test”; “Reform, not a Cultural Revolution”; “Freedom, no lockdowns”; “Votes, no leader. Dignity, no lies. Citizens, not slaves” etc.

The banners appeared to have rattled officials in China, where political protest is rare, as they hastily deployed police on numerous bridges in Beijing to ensure protests do not spread, as mobile patrolling in the city has intensified.

Gauging the public outcry, the CPC spokesperson People’s Daily came out strongly in favor of the zero-COVID policy, accusing those of “laying down”.

“If there is a large-scale resurgence of COVID-19, the spread of the epidemic will have a serious impact on economic and social development, and the ultimate costs will be higher and the loss greater,” one commenter in the daily said. .

Xi, 69, also said recently that China has witnessed fewer deaths as a result of its zero-COVID policy compared to the rest of the world.

The coronavirus, which first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 before spreading to the world causing death and devastation, has become the Achilles heel of the Chinese economy, leading to its worst slowdown due to continued closures of top cities in the country.

Major productive cities such as Shanghai, Chengdu, Xian and several top and two-tier cities suffered or face periodic prolonged lockdowns that severely disrupt people’s lives.

Police officers and health officials in new Hazmat suits have become a common sight across China.

Public outcry is brewing as the delay leads to job losses. According to recent data, the unemployment rate in China has risen to about 19 percent, the highest in recent years.

While China claims to have vaccinated the best segment of the population, officials are complaining that vulnerable groups such as those over 60 are of concern.

In almost all cities, especially Beijing, people are required to be tested for COVID on alternate days, without which they cannot enter public buildings, restaurants, transport services or even taxis.

Under the zero-COVID policy, travel and transportation services within China and connectivity with the world are being hit hard. So much so that most of China’s vast infrastructure, including the once busiest airports, currently has a derelict appearance.

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