An alarming video has emerged from China as the nation's resolve around its unwavering Covid-zero strategy looks set to be put to the test.
China is facing its worst wave of Covid-19, fuelled by the highly-infectious Omicron variant, since the virus first emerged in Wuhan over two years ago with experts fearing Beijing's strategy is at breaking point.
Video circulated online, believed to be filmed in the northeastern province of Shandong, shows pandemic workers dressed head to toe in PPE involved in ugly scenes with local residents.
The pandemic workers can be seen repeatedly striking a person cornered against a vehicle, while one man is grabbed by the neck and flung to the ground and then punched in the head from behind.
After being pulled to his feet, one worker directs a kick in the man's direction amid the melee.
While the cause of the physical altercation and when it was filmed is unclear, there is a growing sense of discontent from residents who are forced to adhere to stringent Covid restrictions as the rest of the world opens up.
On Thursday following a meeting on the pandemic response, President Xi Jinping called for the current surge in cases, which saw a further 2,416 infections on Friday, be suppressed as quickly as possible with tougher restrictions. He also called on the country to persevere with Beijing's increasingly contentious strategy.
"Persistence is victory," official notes from the meeting state.
Pandemic fatigue setting in
The port city of Qingdao in Shandong is one of several major cities to face heightened restrictions due to outbreaks.
Chinese actor Gong Jun has faced criticism from residents placed under restrictions in the city after video emerged of his show's production crew in a restaurant despite the fact that public dining is currently banned.
The show, Rising With The Wind, has denied any wrongdoing, stressing they are following restrictions and the restaurant was fully booked out as their own private space.
Despite denying any wrongdoing, his alleged behaviour has been described as "disgusting" online.
It's clear fatigue and skepticism of the country's approach is growing.
One business owner in Shenzhen, a mega city locked down due to a surge in cases, said he feared China had lost control.
"I think there is no way to stop Omicron now," he told Reuters.
"The only way is to maintain normalcy and welcome the virus. You see abroad, the coronavirus is like a cold. Many people have recovered and travelled everywhere. Why are we trapped here?"
Experts fear for China's strategy
Temporary Covid hospitals have been erected in the hardest hit areas, and while the country's Covid statistics are a far cry from some of its Western counterparts, there is low confidence in the country's vaccine.
"The next two weeks are key to determining whether existing policies can really be effective in curbing infection growth or even reaching completely zero cases in one city as we saw last year," said Chen Zhengmin, professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford.
Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, who led an early Wuhan study in 2020, said he was "not very optimistic" the current approach could be sustained.
Top Chinese scientist Zeng Guang said last month China's tactics cannot "remain unchanged forever" and Beijing's long-term goal was to eventually "co-exist" with the virus.
Hong Kong meanwhile, has seen the highest Covid death rate anywhere in the world in recent weeks.
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