China sees most COVID-19 cases since May as lockdowns spread

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China reported its highest daily Covid-19 case tally in seven weeks as a new cluster emerged in the southern province of Guangxi, underscoring the difficulty of achieving the country’s Covid Zero strategy in the face of more infectious strains of the virus.

The country reported 432 infections for Thursday, up from 292 on Wednesday and the most since May 25. More than a third, or 165 cases, were found in Guangxi province, centered around Beihai, a coastal city of 1.83 million people.

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The first case was detected Tuesday and authorities shut entertainment venues in the city center from Wednesday.

Separately, CCTV reported that Huaiyuan county in Anhui had 151 preliminary Covid cases on Thursday and was put into lockdown. The province had reported no infections in the figures released earlier Friday.

Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in northwestern China, shifted into a full lockdown Wednesday with its more than 4 million residents ordered to stay in their homes.

The province reported 71 new cases for Thursday. Wugang, a steel and iron-making city of some 300,000 inhabitants in Henan province, announced a lockdown on Tuesday after finding a single Covid case. The province recorded 52 cases on Thursday.

President Xi Jinping has made the Covid Zero strategy a hallmark of his rule, saying the country won’t pursue “herd immunity” like other countries because it would exact too much of a toll, particularly on China’s elderly, which have low vaccination rates.

He has repudiated the high death rates from Covid elsewhere, especially in arch rival the US, which has the highest number of recorded fatalities from the virus globally.

The rolling lockdowns have exacted a costly economic and social toll. Data Friday showed China’s economy grew at the slowest pace since the first outbreak more than two years ago.

Gross domestic product expended just 0.4 percent last quarter from a year earlier; lower than economists’ forecasts of 1.2 percent growth and the weakest pace since 2020.

Shanghai, which endured a bruising two-month lockdown, was particularly hard hit, with its economy shrinking 14 percent in the quarter. In Jilin - which also imposed a lockdown to curb Covid infections - economic activity shrank 4.5 percent.

As of Monday, some 30 million people across China were under some form of movement restrictions to quell transmission, but authorities have so far steered clear of strict lockdowns in key economic regions.

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