China Covid Protesters Become Targets of Beijing’s Surveillance State

BEIJING—Police fanned out across China’s big cities Tuesday in an effort to prevent fresh protests, as security services harnessed the country’s pervasive surveillance system to hunt down participants in mass demonstrations calling for an end to strict Covid curbs and criticizing national leaders.

Meanwhile, China’s central public-health authorities urged local governments to avoid unnecessary and lengthy lockdowns—something that has sparked public ire after nearly three years of tough pandemic-control measures. Authorities also modulated their language about the dangers posed by the virus, saying the now-prevalent Omicron variant causes less serious disease.

The National Health Commission appeared to deliver the government’s first acknowledgment of the protests, if a subtle one, at a press briefing in Beijing. “The problems recently reflected by the masses are not primarily about pandemic prevention and control per se,” said Chen Youquan, a senior official with the NHC. Instead, he said, people were dissatisfied by poor implementation of controls at the local level.