Chinese cycle past Tiananmen Square's North Rostrum in Beijing on February 3, 2021, amid a partial lockdown imposed due to the threat of COVID-19 in the capital. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
June 27 (UPI) -- Residents of Beijing reacted with confusion and alarm Monday when a top Communist Party official was quoted in official media saying strict COVID-19 policies could be in place for five years.
A story first posted in the Beijing Daily, the official publication of the capital's ruling party, quoted former mayor and current party chief Cai Qi as saying the city will uphold the controversial "zero-COVID" policy "for the next five years," the Guardian and CNN reported.
China, which has a COVID-19 infection rate that's still low compared to other countries, has adopted a "zero-COVID" policy mainly aimed at protecting elderly residents and the Chinese medical system. Under the policy, new cases are isolated and close contacts, which can also include an entire building or community where they live, are required to quarantine.
Beijing residents must also provide negative COVID-19 test results from the previous 72 or 48 hours to enter supermarkets, shopping malls and other public places.
The quote from Cai, a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, provoked a quick and furious social media backlash. On Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform, the hashtag "for the next five years" was banned in response to the uproar.
The Beijing Daily report was subsequently edited to remove the quote, which the publication attributed to "editing errors."
The original text read, "In the next five years, Beijing will unremittingly grasp the normalization of epidemic prevention and control."
An unedited version of Cai's speech, delivered to the city's 13th Communist Party Congress on Monday, showed that while the quote was indeed misleading, the official did discuss the possibility of keeping zero-COVID policies in place in the capital over the next five-year period, according to CNN.
In the speech, Cai vowed to build Beijing into a "major scientific research center and innovation hub" over the next five years, "consolidating and improving" its ecosystem to lure high-end industries such as integrated circuits and pharmaceuticals, the state-run Global Times tabloid reported.