Chinese censors scrub internet after senior party official spoke on zero-Covid timeline in Beijing

The Beijing Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper for the Chinese capital, previously reported that the city’s party leader, Cai Qi, said on Monday that “over the next five years, Beijing will resolutely implement Covid-19 pandemic control measures and maintain ‘zero-Covid’s policy to prevent imported cases come in and domestic cases come back. “

The reported reference from Cai, a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, to “the next five years” triggered a major setback on Chinese social media. In response, the Beijing Daily removed the line, describing it as an “editing error” while leaving his other remarks on pandemic checks intact.

CNN reviewed the entire speech, and while the published quote from the Beijing Daily was misleading, Cai discussed in detail the possibility of keeping zero-Covid policies in place in the capital over the next five-year period.

The pandemic checks that will remain in place include routine PCR tests, strict entry rules, regular health checks in residential areas and public arenas, as well as strict monitoring and testing for people entering and leaving Beijing, state media quoted Cai as saying.

“I have to rethink whether I will continue to stay in Beijing for the long term,” wrote a user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

“For the next five years … what’s the point of even being alive,” said another user.

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

WHO chief censors China's Internet after calling zero-Covid unsustainable

In early May, Xi doubled the Covid policy in a meeting of the Communist Party’s standing committee in the Politburo, the country’s highest decision – making body, and ordered officials and all sectors of society to follow “decisions and plans” to leadership.

The US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, said in an online event at the Brookings Institution on June 16 that he expected China to keep its zero-Covid policy in place until the “early months of 2023”, based on signals from the Chinese government.

For several months, cities across China – including Beijing and Shanghai – have been put under full or partial blockade due to the strict zero-Covid policy, causing the destruction of economic activity and damaging the labor market. In May, the unemployment rate for people aged 16-24 reached a record high of 18.4%.

China continues to shut down entire communities and cities over just a handful of Covid cases. All positive cases and close contacts are sent in government quarantine.

China reported 23 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases across the country on Sunday, with Beijing and Shanghai each registering four cases, according to the country’s National Health Commission.