Chinese Censors Scrub Internet After Senior Party Official Gives Speech on Beijing Zero-Covid Timeline



Chinese censors rushed to remove an apparently misleading quote from a senior Communist Party official published in state media on Monday claiming the “zero Covid” policy would remain in Beijing “for the next five years” apply, in an effort to tame an online backlash.

Beijing Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper for the Chinese capital, previously reported that the city’s party chief, Cai Qi, said on Monday that “Beijing will take resolute measures over the next five years to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and the ‘zero-Covid policy to prevent imported cases from entering and domestic cases bouncing back’.

The reported reference by Cai, who is a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, to “the next five years” sparked a huge backlash on Chinese social media. In response, Beijing Daily removed the line, describing it as an “editing error,” while leaving its other comments about pandemic controls intact.

CNN watched the entire speech and while the published Beijing Daily quote was misleading, Cai discussed at length the possibility of maintaining the zero-covid policy in the capital for the next five years.

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

“I have to reconsider whether I should stay in Beijing for the long term,” wrote one user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

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

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

In early May, Xi doubled down on zero-covid policies at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, the country’s highest decision-making body, which instructed officials and all sectors of society to abide by the “decisions and plans” of the leadership.

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

For months, cities across China — including Beijing and Shanghai — have been completely or partially shut down due to strict zero-Covid policies, devastating economic activity and hurting the labor market. In May, the unemployment rate for people aged 16-24 reached a record high of 18.4%.

China continues to close entire communities and cities due to only a handful of Covid cases. All positive cases and close contacts are quarantined by the government.

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