China announces brutal internet crackdown to cut out ‘gloomy’ pandemic ‘rumours’

China’s authoritarian government has announced a brutal crackdown on how its citizens use the internet – to prevent “gloomy sentiments” it says are being caused by pandemic “rumours”.

The government’s national cyberspace administration’s month-long “Spring Festival online improvement” programme will target individuals it sees spreading “rumours” about the spread of Covid-19 through the country.

It said it would investigate and punish those found to be spreading “online rumours related to the epidemic” and “fabricating patient experiences” citing the need to prevent “misleading the public and causing social panic”.

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On top of this, the country’s cyberspace administration said it would be cracking down on “the deliberate displaying of images of overeating and drinking”, as well as the promotion of “extravagant and wasteful information”.

The news comes a month after the Wall Street Journal reported that the cyberspace administration asked TikTok’s owners Bytedance to beef up its internet censorship teams, following widespread protests across the country over its government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the sudden relaxation of its lockdown restrictions, health officials in the country admitted on Saturday that nearly 60,000 people have died of Covid-19 in China over the past five weeks, though the actual figure is likely to be significantly higher.

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While health officials have said that the worst is behind them, health analytics company Airfinity said it now expects China’s Covid-19 death rate to peak at 36,000 deaths a day during the lunar new year festival.

Several independent studies published late last year predicted that China’s sudden dropping of its Covid-19 restrictions would lead to around a million Covid-related deaths in 2023 in the country.

Xi Jinping, who has led the Chinese Communist Party since 2012, began dropping lockdown restrictions late last year following widespread protests against the government’s zero-tolerance approach that broke out across the country.

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