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Beijing clamps down on social media critics of COVID policies

Beijing clamps down on social media critics of COVID policies

Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo issues temporary or permanent bans on 1,120 accounts.
As China’s dramatic U-turn on its zero-COVID measures continues, Beijing has shut down or suspended more than a 1,000 social media accounts in a clampdown on critics of its pandemic policies.

Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, said it had issued temporary or permanent bans on 1,120 accounts after addressing more than 12,800 violations, including attacks on experts, scholars and medical workers, the Associated Press reported.

China in December abandoned its strict zero-COVID policy, which included months-long lockdowns, after a wave of protests against the draconian measures spread to several cities and university campuses across the country, with demonstrators in Shanghai calling for President Xi Jinping to step down. Since then, the country has seen a new surge in cases, overwhelming Chinese health services and alarming the rest of the world.

The anti-lockdown protests, some of which were organized through social media, were the first major show of resistance from the public under Xi's rule. Freedom of speech is limited under China’s authoritarian government and criticism of the Communist Party often brings punishments. 

Sina Weibo “will continue to increase the investigation and cleanup of all kinds of illegal content, and create a harmonious and friendly community environment for the majority of users,” the company said in a statement dated Thursday, according to the AP. 

China is bracing for the outbreak to spread further as people travel en masse from the country’s cities for the Lunar New Year later this month. Nonetheless, as of January 8, travelers arriving in China will no longer face coronavirus quarantine measures.

The skyrocketing number of patients has already led to overcrowded hospitals and empty pharmacy shelves, with people hoarding medicines like paracetamol, a common medicine to treat pain and fever.

A forecast by health analytics company Airfinity estimated in November that China risks between 1.3 million and 2.1 million deaths by lifting its zero-COVID policy, due to low vaccination rates, the use of less effective vaccines, and a lack of hybrid immunity. 

The EU has struggled to mount a coordinated response to COVID risk from arrivals from China since travel bans from the country were lifted. Italy was the first to break from the pack, announcing its own border control measures, with France, Germany, Spain and Sweden following suit — drawing a rebuke from Beijing.

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