A SECURITY GUARD IN SHANGHAI SEALING A HOUSING ESTATE SHUT DURING THE PANDEMIC. PHOTO: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP

A SECURITY GUARD IN SHANGHAI SEALING A HOUSING ESTATE SHUT DURING THE PANDEMIC. PHOTO: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP

Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou have apologized for breaking into residents’ homes to ensure no one was hiding to avoid centralized quarantine.

Earlier this month, local officials and property management staff in the urban district of Liwan forced their way into 84 units of a residential building by dismantling their door locks. The government listed the building as a high-risk zone after detecting positive cases and sent residents to centralized quarantine. But officials were looking for “close contacts” that might have been hiding in the apartments to avoid quarantine.

The apology came after footage of the incident and photos of broken locks discarded on the floor sparked an uproar online, with many criticizing the authorities for blatantly infringing the residents’ rights and privacy. It is also part of a wider pushback against hard-line measures, seen in some cities, to eradicate COVID at all cost.

In a statement issued on Monday, the district government apologized for the “simple and crude” measures and for “disregarding residents’ feelings.” It promised to compensate residents and replace damaged locks. 

It also said it has launched an investigation and would punish those responsible for the break-ins.

Some Chinese social media users found the consequence too lenient. “Breaking open doors and forcing their way in without the owners’ permission is illegal. It cannot be resolved just by an apology. If it is not handled seriously, this will definitely happen again in the future,” one comment on the Chinese social media site Weibo read. 

It is not the first time Chinese officials have come under fire for their overzealous enforcement of COVID measures. In several cities, including Qianan in northern Hebei, authorities have demanded residents to hand over their keys and stay locked inside their homes. Some who refused saw their doors sealed with iron bolts and wires. During a citywide lockdown in April and May, some residential buildings in Shanghai also had their entrances blocked with fences, triggering concerns about fire safety. 

Despite the backlash, there is no sign that the Chinese government is relenting on its stringent zero-COVID policy, which seeks to stamp out any outbreak rather than shifting to an endemic phase as most countries around the world have done. 

China continues to follow the same playbook as the number of COVID cases is once again on the rise, fueled by the highly transmissible BA.5 Omicron subvariant. 

Just weeks out of a lockdown that had crippled the city for two months, Shanghai is conducting mass testing and placing a growing number of districts under restrictions. As of Monday, 264 million residents across 41 Chinese cities are under partial or full lockdowns, or district-based controls, according to the Japanese investment bank Nomura. 

The recurring lockdowns have also dealt a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy, which saw a tepid 0.4 percent growth in the second quarter compared to the same period last year, adding to fears of a global economic slowdown.

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