Chinese censors clean internet after top party official gives speech on timeline for Covid zero in Beijing

Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese capital’s Communist Party, previously reported that the head of the city’s party, Cai Qi, said on Monday that “Over the next five years, Beijing will resolutely implement measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and uphold the ‘zero mode’.” Covid policy aimed at preventing the emergence of imported cases and the recovery of domestic cases.”

Cai, who is a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, about the “next five years” has sparked a huge backlash on Chinese social media. In response, Beijing Daily removed the line, calling it an “editing error,” while leaving his other remarks about the pandemic response unchanged.

CNN reviewed the entire speech, and while the published quote from the Beijing Daily is misleading, Tsai discussed at length the possibility of maintaining the zero Covid policy in the capital for the next five years.

Pandemic controls that will remain in place include routine PCR tests, strict entry rules, regular health checks in residential areas and public areas, and strict monitoring and testing of people entering and leaving Beijing, state media quoted Tsai as saying.

“I need to rethink whether I should continue to stay in Beijing long term,” wrote one user on Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like platform.

“For the next five years… what’s the point of living at all,” another user said.

Weibo has since banned the hashtag “for the next five years” from its platform.

In early May, Xi redoubled his stance on the zero-covid policy at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party Politburo, the country’s top decision-making body, ordering officials and all sectors of society to adhere to the “decisions and plans” of the leadership.

U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said at a Brookings Institution online event on June 16 that he expects China to maintain its zero-Covid policy until “early 2023” based on signals from the Chinese government.

For months, cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai, have been completely or partially locked down due to strict zero-spread Covid policies that are hurting economic activity and hurting the job market. In May, the unemployment rate among people aged 16-24 reached a record 18.4%.

China continues to close entire towns and cities due to multiple Covid cases. All positive cases and close contacts are sent to state quarantine.

China reported 23 cases of local Covid-19 infection across the country on Sunday, with Beijing and Shanghai reporting four cases each, according to the country’s National Health Commission.

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