Coronavirus cases in China have reached a record high for the fifth successive day following a weekend of demonstrations against the zero-Covid policy in cities across the country.
A total of 40,052 new infections were reported on Monday, compared to 39,506 a day earlier.
A large protest in Beijing continued into the early hours, with demonstrators calling for an end to mass Covid-19 testing as passing cars tooted their horns in support.
Police in Shanghai made a number of arrests on Sunday after clashes with protesters. A BBC journalist was detained, kicked and beaten in an incident the corporation described as “very worrying”.
Protesters in Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic began, overturned testing booths where citizens are required to take PCR tests every three days. The testing regime and the profits it has generated for some companies have been a focus of anger for many protesters.
Dozens of universities across China saw demonstrations over the weekend and some students at Beijing’s Peking University issued a declaration calling for testing and quarantine to be made voluntary for people who have no symptoms.
“From a public health perspective, it is impossible to stop the spread of the virus in the country in a short period of time. The most urgent task now is to find a temporary way of coexistence that minimizes the danger of the epidemic while ensuring basic social order and basic economic and livelihood needs,” the declaration said.
At many of the demonstrations, protesters have sung the Chinese national anthem and the Internationale, the anthem of international socialism that is sung at Chinese Communist Party congresses.
Although some protesters in Shanghai at the weekend called for the Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping to go, the students at Peking University paid tribute to the success of the zero-Covid policy in saving lives at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Looking back at the early days of the epidemic, we should acknowledge that the policies implemented by the Party and the government saved the lives of millions of people and preserved the health of millions of people, and that countless grassroots workers devoted their efforts and even sacrificed their lives to these policies, which should be commemorated forever,” they said.
The demonstrations against the zero-Covid policy followed the deaths of 10 people in a fire at a locked-down, high-rise building in Urumqi, capital of the western province of Xinjiang. Local authorities rejected claims that fire crews were unable to save the victims in Urumqi because of obstacles created to seal the building in lockdown.
The Chinese authorities this month issued new guidelines to apply the zero-Covid policy in a more targeted way but local officials have continued to impose strict lockdowns. Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said on Sunday that epidemic control measures had to be adjusted to deal with the rise in infections.
“The government will continue to make prevention and control work more scientific, precise and effective to contain the spread of the epidemic as soon as possible, as well as minimize the impact on normal life,” he said.