As the entire world was engulfed by the deadly COVID-19 virus, different countries adopted different strategies to grapple with its detrimental consequences. Among all the other strategies, the zero-COVID policy of China has gained worldwide traction. According to The Guardian, the early lockdown of Wuhan city was “brutal but effective.” China’s ultimate goal was to keep cases as close to zero as possible through strict lockdowns, mass testing, and quarantines.
What are China’s Methods?
- Lockdowns are to be imposed in COVID-19-affected areas and if needed, the lockdowns will span neighborhoods or even the entire city.
- China adopted a strategy to monitor the movement of its citizens and track the spread of the virus. This was made possible through a contact tracing app that notified people of their encounter with any COVID-19-affected individual or if they were travelling to a high-risk area.
- Frequent mass testing was carried out even in areas that had no new cases.
- Government quarantine facilities were made for COVID-19-positive individuals.
Initially, the policies were praised nationally as well as internationally but with the recent protest and mounting COVID-19 cases in China, it is evident that the effectiveness of the policy is dwindling.
The Downsides of the Zero-COVID Policy
While the policy boosted the efforts towards combating the spread of COVID-19, it simultaneously spurred a lot of unintended negative consequences. In some cities like Yining, lockdowns have caused a shortage of food and other basic amenities. Multiple videos have exploded on the internet showing people protesting with their pots and pans thus demanding food from the state authorities.
It has had a huge toll on the country’s economy too, especially on the global supply chains. China forecasted its economic growth at 5.5% for 2022 but could only achieve a growth of 3.9%. Stringent lockdowns have made daily life and travel miserable as residents are subject to frequent testing and limited travel. In pursuit of the zero-COVID policy, families are separated, and necessary medical treatments are delayed, fueling public anger.
China’s policies are seen as draconian as the total number of cases and death rate is fewer in comparison to countries like the US. According to Our World in Data, China only reported 1.5 million cases with more than 5000 deaths, while the US, with only a quarter of China’s population, reported 98 million cases with more than a million deaths.
A lot of hard-hearted events have led up to recent protests including a “quarantine bus” accident that killed 27 people, and the death of a baby in Zhengzhou because of delayed paramedics’ care while the baby’s family was isolated in a quarantine hotel. The recent fire in Urumqi on Thursday this week has intensified the situation. The fire killed 10 people in an apartment as strict lockdown prevented them from escaping the building and hindered timely precautionary services. A candlelight vigil was observed for the victims that later turned into nationwide protests.
On Sunday, 27th November, protesters came onto the streets of Wuhan and Chengdu while numerous students gathered at their university campuses to demonstrate over the weekend. Similarly, on Monday in Beijing, two groups of protesters, at least 1,000 people gathered along the Chinese capital’s Third Ring Road near the Liangma River, refusing to disperse.
People are continuously demanding freedom. One of the protestors chanted, “We don’t want masks, we want freedom. We don’t want COVID tests, we want freedom.” In Wuhan, hundreds of residents have poured into the streets, breaking through the metal barricades, toppling COVID testing tents, and demanding an end to draconian policies.
The city of Lanzhou is also experiencing similar public dissent. The nationwide protest has gathered international attention and has put immense pressure on Xi Jinping’s party to review the policy. Deputy Regional Director of Amnesty International, Hana Young, said in a statement, “The Chinese government must immediately review its Covid-19 policies to ensure that they are proportionate and time-bound. All quarantine measures that pose threats to personal safety and unnecessarily restrict freedom of movement must be suspended.”
Xi’s party is continuously advocating for its zero-COVID policy as life-saving and essential to reduce overwhelming pressure on the healthcare system of China. Some alternative and less strict policies are now being adopted. According to Global Times, the National Health Commission has deployed officers to various localities to help implement the new policies and “rectify some problems.” It also aims to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” policy.
In addition to this, authorities in the eastern city of Hefei have issued a “not-to-do” list of 16 items. Similarly, in central Zhengzhou, officials clarified that a “stay-at-home” order meant residents are permitted for medical treatment, emergencies, escape, and rescue.
China’s prospect of a safe China seems a far-fetched idea that requires an ample amount of time. China has adopted temporary solutions like lockdowns to buy more time for robust strategies like mass vaccinations. Unlike other countries, China failed to vaccinate its people, and even the vaccines used by China proved ineffective.
A cloud of distrust and anger is hovering over Chinese citizens and it is claimed that there will be a backlash to the backlash. While these unprecedented protests are proving successful, there are chances that Xi Jinping might adopt more authoritarian policies, with an analyst saying that China might have to choose between increased lockdowns and increased COVID-19 cases or between strict lockdowns and massive protests.
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