• Beijing closes more gyms, malls and cinemas to contain outbreak
  • New COVID cases in the capital number in the dozens
  • China to step up policy support for economy – Politburo meeting

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, April 29 (Reuters) – China’s capital Beijing on Friday closed more businesses and residential compounds as authorities ramped up contact tracing to contain a COVID-19 outbreak amid resentment over the month-long lockdown in Shanghai has increased.

In the financial hub, fenced-in people protested the lockdown and difficulties in getting supplies by banging on pots and pans in the evening, according to a Reuters witness and residents.

A video shared on social media, the authenticity of which could not immediately be verified, showed a woman warning people via a megaphone not to do so, saying such gestures were encouraged by “outsiders”.

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The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Beijing, authorities have raced against time to detect COVID cases and isolate those who have been around them.

A sign posted outside a residential complex read ‘Entry Only. No Exit’.

Polish resident Joanna Szklarska, 51, was sent to a quarantine hotel as a close contact, but she refused to share the room, which had only one bed, with her neighbour.

She was sent home, where authorities installed an alarm at the front door. Then she was called back to the hotel, where she now has her own room.

“Nothing makes sense here,” the English-speaking consultant said over the phone.

At a regular press conference on Friday, Chinese health officials did not respond to questions about whether Beijing is on lockdown or what circumstances might prompt such measures.

The tough restrictions in China have appeared surreal in many parts of the world where people have chosen to live with the virus.

And the frequent signs of frustration among citizens will be uncomfortable for China’s ruling Communist Party, especially as President Xi Jinping is set to win a third term in office this fall.

Nomura estimates that 46 cities are currently in full or partial lockdown, affecting 343 million people. Societe Generale estimates that provinces with severe mobility restrictions account for 80% of China’s economic output.

New COVID cases in Beijing number in the dozens, officials said Friday, a far cry from Shanghai’s numbers.

In Beijing’s Chaoyang district, the first to undergo mass testing this week, began the last of three rounds of testing among its 3.5 million residents on Friday. Most other districts are due for their third round of testing on Saturday.

Other buildings were sealed off, preventing residents from leaving, and some spas, KTV lounges, gymnasiums, cinemas and libraries and at least two shopping malls closed on Friday.

People who had recently visited places in areas declared “at risk” by the authorities received text messages telling them to stay put until they got their test results.

“Hello citizens! You recently visited the beef noodle and braised chicken shop in Guanghui Li community,” read one of the texts. “Please report to your resort or hotel immediately, stay put and await notification of nucleic acid testing.”

“If you violate the above requirements and cause the epidemic to spread, you will bear legal responsibility.”

The Labor Day break from April 30 to May 4 is one of China’s busiest tourist seasons, and the travel industry is suffering losses. Read more

Companies reopening factories in Shanghai are booking hotel rooms to house workers and turning vacant workshops into on-site isolation facilities as authorities urge them to return to work under COVID restrictions. Read more

Many foreigners want to escape the most cosmopolitan city in mainland China. Read more

In response to COVID and other headwinds, China will step up its policy support for the economy, a top Communist Party policymaking body said on Friday, lifting stocks (.CSI300), (.SSEC) against to recent two-year lows. Read more

Details were scarce, but markets reacted to a change in messaging away from the single focus on COVID, analysts said.

“Now the goal is to balance epidemic control and economic growth,” said Zhiwei Zhang, chairman of Pinpoint Asset Management, who expects China’s economy to contract in the second quarter.

“This suggests that the government could refine the ‘zero tolerance’ policy to allow for some flexibility.”

Chinese authorities say the fight against COVID is vital to saving lives.

“The battle against the COVID epidemic is a war, a war of resistance, a people’s war,” said Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission’s COVID response panel.

In Shanghai, authorities said more people had been gradually allowed in principle to leave their homes recently. More than 12 million, or almost half of the population, now fall into this category. Read more

Still, many cannot leave their enclosures, while those who may have few places to go as shops and other venues are closed. Often one of the 52,000 police officers mobilized for containment asks them to go home.

Many residents have complained about the inflexibility of the police department, which sometimes does not take into account health emergencies or other individual circumstances.

“Some police officers are emotional or mechanical,” Shu Qing, head of the Municipal Public Security Bureau, told reporters, admitting “shortcomings.”

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Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, David Stanway, Brenda Goh, Tony Munroe, Roxanne Liu, Albee Zhang, Wang Yifan and Beijing and Shanghai bureaus; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Simon Cameron-Moore

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