China is one of the few nations remaining that is clinging to the “Zero Covid” policy of massive testing and draconian lockdowns whenever an outbreak of the virus is detected. And with winter coming, Chinese citizens are bracing themselves for more unprecedented measures to try and stop the outbreak in its tracks.
Currently, more than 200 million people are under total lockdown — no shopping, no work, not even a walk in the park.
“Many of my friends and coworkers have been under lockdown at home,” said Guangzhou resident Lily Li, 28, according to Reuters. “The situation is still unstable. Many places are under lockdown. Classes have stopped and entertainment venues have been suspended too. The gym that I often go to has also been closed.”
Many China watchers believed that President Xi would use the occasion of the party congress that ended last week to announce a gradual lifting of some of the harsher zero-Covid measures that have angered the populace and contributed to an economic slowdown
Instead, Xi made it clear that the nation would redouble its efforts to control the pandemic by locking down the county and isolating its people
China on Thursday reported a third straight day of more than 1,000 new COVID cases nationwide, a modest tally compared with the tens of thousands per day that sent Shanghai into a full-blown lockdown earlier this year but enough to trigger more restrictions across the country.
China’s coronavirus case load has remained small by global standards, but its ultra-strict and disruptive containment measures this year against the highly transmissible Omicron variant have weighed heavily on the world’s second-largest economy.
Guangzhou, China’s fourth-biggest city by economic output and the provincial capital of Guangdong, on Thursday sealed up more streets and neighbourhoods and kept people in their homes as new areas were deemed high-risk in a COVID resurgence that persisted into its fourth week.
Aside from maintaining a policy that has failed everywhere else it’s been tried, China is stuck in Covid hell. In Communist countries, if the leader admits error, that leader will almost certainly disappear from view and be “retired” unceremoniously.
In this case, Xi has committed a whopper of an error and can’t afford to change the policy. Not only have the lockdowns slowed the economy, but they’ve also sent a wave of discontent rumbling through the population.
How much longer will the Chinese people accept these lockdowns?
Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University, and Chen Zhengming, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, both see China sticking to the lockdowns, mass testing and travel curbs of Covid Zero through winter, with tweaks not coming until next year — after the National People’s Congress (NPC), due to be held in March or April. China may be forced into a more pragmatic approach as lockdowns become less effective at eliminating Covid cases, particularly over winter, Collignon said.
But what happens next winter? By then, Xi may relent and allow the far more effective Western vaccines to be used. But even then, if China is going to lock down at the first sign of infections, nothing will improve and China will be stuck with a failed policy that feeds the people’s discontent.