Students face new restrictions as key party congress looms

At least a dozen universities in Beijing are cutting short an upcoming national holiday and discouraging student travel in advance of the key 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in mid-October, adding to disruptions caused by COVID-19 prevention measures in recent weeks.

These included staggered or late starts to the academic year in September due to COVID-19 outbreaks on campuses in Beijing.

Beijing has tightened security in advance of the party congress, held every five years, which kicks off in the capital on 16 October. The Communist Party conclave is expected to extend Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership to a third term in office, and begin the process to revise the party constitution to allow him to become ‘leader for life’, thereby cementing his authority.

Academics said the extra travel restrictions also related to COVID control measures in and around Beijing in advance of the party congress, as Xi seeks to tout the success of China’s ‘Zero-COVID’ measures in controlling the pandemic.

Universities in the capital, including Peking University and Tsinghua University, announced that the seven-day October public holiday catering for the country’s National Day celebrations, which normally begin on 1 October and last a week, would be cut short by several days and new COVID-like restrictions imposed on students and staff who want to leave the city for that period.

This is part of measures to curb ‘imports’ of COVID on their return.

Special approval system

Students said they would have to go through a special approval system, separate from the COVID-19 approval system already in place, if they want to leave the capital during October.

Chinese authorities have asked all cities, even those without an outbreak, to conduct regular mass testing until the end of October, as part of Xi’s Zero-COVID policy.

Universities in Beijing had already tightened COVID-19 prevention measures after campus-related clusters emerged in early September, with strict ‘no entry and no exit’ measures in place on some campuses and mass testing in many areas in the city after a COVID cluster emerged on the campus of the Communication University of China.

Li Yi, spokesperson for the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, said during a press briefing on 6 September that the increasing flow of people during holidays such as the National Day holiday posed an increased risk to the capital by bringing in imported cases.

Universities and schools, where clusters of infection often emerge, are key to epidemic prevention, and outbreaks must be contained “in the shortest time possible”, the education authorities said.

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