China has intensified its COVID restrictions and lockdowns as its daily infection figures climbed to a record high.
On Wednesday it recorded 31,444 new COVID-19 cases – exceeding the previous peak in April when Shanghai was in a city-wide lockdown that would last two months.
It is also the highest daily figure since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The fresh crackdown comes as its zero-COVID policy continues to spark protests – including in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou, where there have been clashes at a huge Foxconn factory making iPhones.
Not even a pledge of a big increase in bonuses has stemmed an exodus of workers from the site, frustrated by COVID curbs.
Apple said it has staff at the factory and is “working closely with Foxconn to ensure their employees’ concerns are addressed”.
In rare scenes of open dissent in China, protests have flared across the country as the number and severity of outbreaks rise.
Authorities in Zhengzhou have announced a five-day lockdown including mass testing in eight of its districts, the latest city to revive daily tests for millions of people.
Its 6.6 million residents have been told to stay at home, except to buy food and medicine.
Officials in the Chinese capital said proof of a negative coronavirus test within the previous 48 hours is now required to enter shopping centres, hotels, government buildings and factories.
Restrictions have also been increased in the port city of Guangzhou, and Shijiazhuang in northern China.
Beijing, along with several other cities, had committed to easing strict lockdown restrictions earlier this month.
But with China’s first three COVID-related deaths in six months reported this week – bringing the total to 5,232, and cases still rising, stricter measures are being reintroduced.
The country’s COVID-19 case load has remained small by global standards, and some believe the strict pandemic restrictions are holding back the world’s second largest economy and are increasingly out of sync with the rest of the world.
But China’s leadership has stood by its strategy, which includes some of the strictest restrictions in the world, saying it is necessary to save lives and prevent the medical system from becoming overwhelmed.
The rigid zero-COVID policy has seen millions of residents confined to their homes, subject to mass testing programmes and enduring sudden lockdowns – in areas where positive coronavirus cases or their close contacts have been detected.
In August, authorities tried to stop shoppers from leaving an Ikea store in the Xuhui district of Shanghai after a customer was found to have been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID.
Last month, the Shanghai Disney Resort became the latest major venue to shut its gates – locking in all visitors and only allowing them to leave, hours later, after they had tested negative for the virus.