China’s zero Covid policy and lockdown fail Shanghai
China’s zero Covid policy and lockdown fail Shanghai

China’s zero Covid policy and lockdown fail Shanghai

Shanghai, China’s busiest 26 million cosmopolis, has been under lockdown since late March under the nation’s strict “dynamic Zero Covid” protocols, a system so poorly managed that its citizens are often unable to access basic necessities such as food, medicine and medical treatment, which is getting quite widespread, spontaneous protests both online and in real life.

While the government has proclaimed the Zero Covid strategy, the government’s system of confinement through intensive testing and tracking, combined with partial or complete shutdowns when a case is discovered, to keep the number of cases and deaths low over the last two years, the reports come out. from Shanghai suggests that the local government was unprepared for an outbreak in the country’s economic center and casts doubt on the feasibility of Zero Covid at this point in the pandemic. It has translated into serious struggles for residents, including hour-long ambulance waiting times, dwindling savings and inadequate or rotten food supplies, among others. Although the central government is reportedly stepping up efforts to get supplies to the city, the overall policy is driving many residents to criticize the government’s policy – and Shanghai’s implementation of it – despite serious potential risks to their security and freedom in doing so.

“Even the authoritarian governments must still take into account this mass action, otherwise they will lose the cooperation of society. We will expect that [the central government] will improve policy implementation, even if the policy itself is not going to change, ”Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Vox on Friday.

The Shanghai eruption is so far China’s most serious since the beginning of the pandemic; a staggering 200,000 cases have been reported since the outbreak started in March, although it is likely to be underreported, according to New York Times. What started as a patchwork of temporary shutdowns to limit the spread of disease quickly turned into an endless, city-wide shutdown where people were only allowed to take PCR tests, as a New York Magazine piece explained earlier in the week. Shanghai’s shutdown, two years after the pandemic, only competes with those in Wuhan in 2020 and Xi’an at the end of last year in terms of austerity.

Shanghai residents outrage – as they have expressed by singing and chanting from their balconies and co-opting anti-American hashtags used by officials to criticize the United States – is due to the fact that the government does not provide the stability it promises in exchange for personal freedoms, according to Rui Zhong, Program Officer at Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. “I think what makes people angry in Shanghai, and what made people angry in Xi’an, is that Covid has been a problem for years,” she told Vox. “I think they’ve been really amazed at the degree to which their local officials have not necessarily prepared, including non-supply chain issues,” as hospital admissions.

Yet the government is asking citizens to sacrifice themselves, without yet having the capacity to secure access to food and medical care. On Thursday, people were in the city’s Pudong district protested their building is being taken over by the local government for the purpose of quarantining those who tested positive. Footage of the incident circulated on Chinese social media before being censored, showing health officials twisting protesters to the ground and taking them to a white van, while others shouted, “Bring them back!” The video too captured residents and said, “Police are beating people,” as they tried to block authorities from taking control of their building, according to NBC.

There has been a fundamental collapse of Zero Covid policy

Shanghai’s local government enjoys a degree of relative autonomy in connection with President Xi Jinping’s China; it’s technical directly under the control of the central government, as a city at the provincial level, but enjoys particular status as the country’s financial hub and a showpiece for the rest of the world. Until March, the local government had handled the pandemic well without major outbreaks. But the rapid onset of the Omicron variant and the corresponding draconian government measures are pushing some citizens to the brink.

“I have no more money … What should I do? I do not care anymore,” shouted a man to his entire building in a viral video on Weibo, China’s response on Twitter. “Just let the Communist Party take me.”

Zhong told Vox that she had heard similar stories of desperation from Shanghai. “I was listening to a recording of an elderly man asking about his heart medicine to a local cadre, a local CCP official,” she said. “He basically said, ‘We have hundreds of these kinds of cases a day, and I understand, but I can do nothing.’ Much of the immediate pressure continues at the most local levels – a lot of emotionally charged conversations like ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I just got food but the food is all rotten’ or ‘I need medicine.’ “So these are all very, very basic material needs. So people are very emotional that they can not buy them and they do not have a schedule for when they will get these necessities again.”

Wednesday’s New York Magazine broadcast from Shanghai describes neighborhoods and residential complexes linked together via WeChat (essentially, as Zhong said, “an operating system” that acts as a messaging platform, payment system and more, and is ubiquitous in China) with volunteers who step up where the government has failed – organize large wholesale grocery orders for their buildings, help administer Covid-19 tests, and organize medical care for those in need. Shanghai’s Covid-19 response system has relied on volunteer efforts throughout the pandemic to support data collection, contact tracking, and elderly care; which worked in the days before Omicron, the incredibly virulent strain of the disease, began tearing through densely populated areas. It combined with less effective vaccines and lower overall vaccination rates especially because of the government’s Covid-19 policy among the elderlyto protect against the virus was too much for the Zero Covid system to carry.

“Many Shanghai people blame local government officials for abusing the crisis, the coordination problems, the lack of contingency planning, these problems. Which may be true,” Huang said. to a pariah of the Covid reaction. “

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) cross a checkpoint during a Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown in the Jing’an district of Shanghai on April 16, 2022.
Hector Retamal / AFP via Getty Images

Although the local bureaucrats have borne the bulk of the people’s frustration, both Zhong and Huang told Vox, it may not necessarily be them who are to blame for the current crisis. “I think that in Shanghai, if one measures the capacity of the state in terms of fiscal capacity, in terms of also the quality of the bureaucratic officials, the capacity of the local officials, I think it is still relatively high, said Huang. “I think the basic question remains the Zero Covid strategy itself.”

It is easy, and to some extent, even logical, to blame the strain on the supply chain – a global problem throughout the pandemic – for lack of access to food and medicine, but it does not work in the same way when the problem is to get an ambulance to come to resolve an emergency or access a hospital bed. “The problem is not a lack of capacity, but the determined pursuit of Zero Covid,” Huang told Vox.

“I think what makes some of the outcry in Shanghai characteristic is that the complaints are not new,” according to Zhong. Earlier shutdowns in Wuhan and Xi’an produced some of the same effects, albeit on a smaller scale, she told Vox. “You had these gaps in care, services for people, so make sure everyone gets their prescription medication, make sure the food supply lines are ok, and make sure people who are going to the hospital for non-Covid emergencies have Some of these problems go back as far as Wuhan in 2020. “

Protests are getting attention – but will they make a difference?

Both Zhong and Huang told Vox that the protests against the Shanghai shutdown – both in person and online – are spontaneous rather than an organized effort. “In terms of protests, anything that’s really organized, centralized, or has some kind of clear leader or group, it’s really, really hard to organize in China, because anyone who seems to be a protest leader, basically paints a law enforcement goal, ”Zhong said. rapid law enforcement response. “

As the authorities’ response to Thursday’s protest shows, law enforcement and the government’s response to the dissent is in fact rapid; whether it is mixing screaming protesters into white vans, banning hashtags or censoring videos, the Chinese government has little appetite for dissent.

“When people go to social media, it’s not the first resort people want because social media is so easily identifiable and people do not want their accounts closed,” Zhong noted. But there are online efforts to use the government’s own online tools against them, she told Vox: “People do really unorthodox things, like using hashtags that the state government typically uses to say how bad America is – except that complaint against Shanghai. ”

Social media also acts as an important form of registration, which is important in a state known for oppressive censorship. The online so-called “lockdown diary” has been part of the Chinese public’s reaction to Covid-19 and the government’s containment policy since its inception, Zhong said. It is a form of registration for people to say, ‘This is what happened. That’s what happened to my mother, my grandmother. ‘ Or “This official was pushed so hard and pushed so hard that they took their own lives,” she said.

As to whether this outburst of desperation and discontent could herald further, more persistent protests, Zhong is cautious; it is too early to say what effect the Shanghai protests will have on the city’s future, Zero Covid policy or nation. But it opens a window for criticism of the policy, as Huang noted.

“There are already more than 44 cities that have been completely or partially blocked, and many more cities have started mass PCR tests that set limits on people’s movements. It is fair to say that a large percentage of the population is have been affected by this policy, “he said.” And that criticism is at least pushing the government to improve the delivery of core goods and services, if nothing else, to ensure stability and quiet disagreement, “Huang said.

But in the end, even if experts inside and outside the government – as well as China’s own citizens – say that Zero Covid policy no longer works in a radically different pandemic landscape, government adjustments and concessions will not change the core policy. It’s too tied to “the superiority of the Chinese model,” Huang said. “It’s definitely a strong incentive to continue that success, because the failure would mean that you’re essentially giving up halfway and all this legacy will be gone. But in the meantime, I think it’s less about legacy, politics and more about not allowing the perceived failure to undermine personal leadership or the legitimacy of the regime. “

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