TThe lockdown in Shanghai has now entered its sixth week. Residents have started flooding social media with angry posts. Many document their imprisonment in quarantine centres without blankets or beds. One pensioner states she can’t get the necessary heart medicine. One woman complains about her family refusing to allow her to make the cabbage soup that she made from scraps of food. Video footage of infants crying unaccompanied in Shanghai COVID-19 hospitals has gone viral and many parents have had to be separated from their children.
Across China’s most populous city, mental health has taken a severe battering. Residents thought that they had survived the worst. But restrictions were increased this week. All residents in an apartment block will now be quarantined if someone is positive. Food deliveries are banned in at least four of the city’s sixteen districts. Videos have been shared of sanitation workers—dubbed dabai or “big whites” on account of the PPE they wear—entering homes without permission and spraying disinfectant. (The outcry resulted in a city pledge to eliminate the practice.
In spite of the fact that there were only 322 local COVID cases reported on May 8th, these new measures have been implemented. There were 3,625 local asymptomatic infections and 11 deaths reported the same day—for a city of 26 million.
Learn More Chinese Public Split Over Zero COVID
Despite growing unease about lockdown measures, President Xi Jinping doubled down on China’s zero-COVID strategy during a May 5 meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, the nation’s top political body. It is a high-stakes game. Allowing COVID-19 to spread in China would lead to a “tsunami” of cases, according to a new study by Shanghai’s Fudan University, Indiana University, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, published on May 10 in the peer-reviewed Nature Medicine. According to researchers, China will be hit by 112 million cases within three months. This would result in 1.5 million deaths. “We project that the Chinese healthcare system will be overwhelmed with a considerable shortage of ICUs,” they said.
However, many Chinese are being driven to the brink by this strategy. Millions share videos of the hardships they endure, as fast as Internet censors remove them. There have been some protests. People in Shanghai’s neighborhoods gather on their balconies to bang pans at set times. Others have even been arrested. arrested.
On expatriate resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of harassment, spoke to TIME of the city’s anger. “I don’t think it will lead to an uprising or anything like that,” he says. But in his view “the government has definitely lost credibility in the eyes of people here.”
A Quarantine worker in protective gear at home in a residence building, during lockdown caused by Covid-19, Shanghai, China on Wednesday April 20, 2022.
Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
China’s zero-COVID dilemma
Many people around the globe are opening up to COVID-19 and trying to make a better life for themselves, but China is still firmly entrenched in its own parallel universe. A handful of cases can lead to major cities being quickly locked up. Some people can stay in their office for weeks, without being able to travel home. The freedom to move and the ability to use public transport are controlled by health apps.
This strategy of zero-COVID has had a tremendous success rate, so there’s no way to know when it will be changed. Despite the fact that the virus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, the world’s most populous country has officially recorded 1.1 million cases and 5,191 deaths for the entire pandemic. While some dispute these numbers, there is no doubt that China’s toll is a small fraction of the 998,048 American lives lost to date.
But China’s approach has created problems of its own. China’s approach to the economy has been criticized by Premier Li Keqiang in recent weeks. The unemployment rate across 31 Chinese major cities is currently the highest ever recorded. Some Chinese, especially the elderly, have been lulled into false security by the low COVID mortality rate.
Learn More Shanghai COVID separates parents from children
More than 1.24 billion of China’s 1.402 billion people have been fully vaccinated, according to official figures, but tens of millions of seniors are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, and thus at high risk of falling seriously ill if they catch COVID. Hong Kong is an example of how Omicron can cause serious illness. It has the worst coronavirus death-to-population ratio in the world.
This country now finds itself in a Catch-22. “Zero-COVID became self-justifiable,” says Dr. Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the New York City–based Council on Foreign Relations. “The more success they had increased the immunity gap between China and the rest of the world, which made it even more justifiable.”
Zero-COVID also depends on continual testing. Experts are skeptical about such a waste of resources. Shanghai has mobilized 100,000 health professionals—half the city’s medical workers—just to conduct PCR testing and on April 4 managed to test all 26 million residents in a single day. It was an undeniably impressive feat of logistics, but “It would probably be more cost-effective to double down efforts to vaccinate the elderly population, rather than pursuing all these mass testing, quarantine and lockdown measures,” says Huang.
An individual protective gear-wearing sanitation worker disinfects the Bund in Shanghai on March 31, 2022.
Photo by Yang Jianzheng/VCG via Getty Images
Political factors behind China’s zero-COVID policy
Adding to the problems are the politics of zero-COVID, which has by now become of President Xi’s signature policies. China’s strongest leader since Mao Zedong is seeking an unprecedented third term at the five-yearly Chinese Communist Party Congress in the fall. Any questioning of the policy’s effectiveness will be seen as a direct affront to his authority. “We will resolutely struggle against all words and deeds that distort, doubt, and deny our epidemic prevention policies,” Xi recently declared.
In March, a Standing Committee meeting called for “balancing” pandemic control and economic development. At the Politburo Standing Committee’s recent meeting, such discussion was absent. Today, the cargo ships of today are jammed at ports and warehouses seal. Factory mothballed. Trucks cannot unload their goods.
Investors pulled a record $17.5 billion in stocks and bonds out of China’s market in March as analysts warned no end to disruption was in sight. Telsa’s plan to open its Shanghai megafactory again on April 4 was canceled by supply problems. In droves, foreign workers have fled the city. None of this appears to have shaken the leadership’s resolve.
Many ordinary citizens were shocked and officials couldn’t explain it to them. It is one widely-shared videoThe following is a list of dabaiAfter a neighbour tests positive, you can order Shanghai residents who are reluctant to leave their apartments.
“You can’t do whatever you want—unless you’re in America. This is China,” one dabaiClutching a bottle of disinfectant, he says. “Stop asking me why, there is no why. We have to obey national guidelines.”
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