BEIJING/SHANGHAI • The move by China to stop people from leaving the country has caused unhappiness among its citizens over the government's lockdowns and strict measures to fight Covid-19.
The National Immigration Administration said on Thursday that it will strictly limit unnecessary outbound travel for Chinese citizens and tighten the approval of entry and exit documents to prevent the virus being brought into the country.
China is grappling to contain its worst outbreak since the early days of the pandemic, with Shanghai enduring a roughly six-week lockdown and Beijing residents fearful that they may be next.
While the statement was in line with previous directives, the reiteration potentially signals more enforcement and has added to growing frustration about the economic and social cost of China's Covid Zero policy.
In addition to the domestic lockdowns that underpin the strategy, the country has essentially sealed itself off from the world for the past two years, leaving it isolated as global peers shift to living with the virus.
"It's a doubling down of existing policies because the government doesn't want people to leave and come back one or two months later and bring back Covid-19," said Shanghai-based finance professional Sofia Fang. "It's like rubbing salt into the wound. Why are they stopping us from leaving?"
Users on China's Twitter-like Weibo and other social media platforms circulated posts alleging that some people were having their green cards - a permanent residence card for foreigners - cut up and that the authorities were suspending the issuance of passports.
The immigration administration said on its official WeChat account on Friday that such reports were untrue, and reiterated that people should minimise unnecessary cross-border activities currently.
Meanwhile, Shanghai is tightening its Covid-19 lockdown for what it hopes would be the final week of its battle with the virus before it can gradually begin to ease restrictions.
China's commercial hub of 25 million hopes to come out of its six-week-old lockdown later this month.
The authorities yesterday were hoping that one last round of tightening would eradicate the last infections of the country's worst Covid-19 outbreak of the pandemic.
Many residents of the nation's most populous city, allowed to leave their housing compounds about a week ago for short walks or quick grocery trips, have more recently received notices to stay indoors for a three-day "silent" period.
Many buildings were told overnight that restriction would be extended until Friday. Going silent usually means residents cannot leave home and, in some cases, it can mean no deliveries.
Shanghai city official Ding Bo said yesterday the number of patients in quarantine hospitals dropped to 50,000, one-fifth of the peak recorded last month. The authorities therefore closed five quarantine centres, he said.
The city reported more than 1,500 daily coronavirus cases, down from more than 2,000 the day before - all in areas under the tightest controls.
Cases found in relatively freer communities are being closely watched for clues on where the outbreak is heading.
One such case was detected on Friday, down from four the previous day.