Is China’s ‘Zero-Covid’ Policy Unscientific And Spooky? 5 Things To Know

Is China’s ‘Zero-Covid’ Policy Unscientific And Spooky? 5 Things To Know

zero covid

Photo: Residents line up for covid tests March 17, 2022, in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

China’s zero covid policy, which imposed strict measures to keep the disease out of the country in the last two years while the rest of the world reported cycles of surging cases and deaths, is being challenged by the omicron variant.

Reported covid infections are rising every day in China.

The latest outbreak, driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant and a spike in asymptomatic cases, is testing the efficacy of the Chinese approach, which turned the country into an island of few reported cases as the rest of the world struggled to contain the pandemic.

President Xi Jinping declared China’s handling of the pandemic a success through lockdowns and widespread testing and touted its methods as the most effective in dealing with the virus.

But as it turns out, China’s methods — which relied on strict border controls, compulsory testing, and tough lockdowns to keep the virus under control since it first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 — were unscientific and spooky.

China said more than 10,000 infection cases were recorded there in the first two weeks of March — more than what the country reported in the entire two years since the pandemic broke out there. No new deaths have been reported but infections have been reported in more than a dozen provinces and major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

Here are five things you need to know about China’s ‘no covid’ Strategy:

1. Millions of people are under lockdown

The southern city of Shenzhen, home to 17 million people, is under lockdown as a result of the latest outbreak.

More than 14 million people who live in Jilin province have been forbidden from leaving the province or traveling between cities.

In the provincial capital of Changchun, residents have been locked down as authorities conduct repeated rounds of mass testing. Some 1,000 medical workers and military personnel have been flown in, along with pandemic response supplies.

2. China said zero covid policy was rooted in voluntary cooperation

The Chinese government said that its zero covid policy “maximized prevention and control at the lowest cost” and that it was rooted in voluntary cooperation by its citizens. However, evidence shows the policy was a forced exercise with little room for people to opt out.

China’s extended covid lockdowns and other harsh pandemic measures have faced muted opposition from the public as residents grow weary of life interrupted.

Even with China’s heavily censored social media services, some users openly questioned whether the zero covid was worth the cost.

In January 2020, Li Wenliang, a young doctor in Wuhan, was arrested for warning friends and colleagues about the emerging coronavirus. Three weeks later, Li posted an admonishment notice from a covid ward hospital bed to China’s Twitter-like Weibo service, catalyzing popular frustration with the initial covid coverup.

3. Drones, driverless cars enforcing zero policy

The zero covid policy was supported with strict surveillance including drones and driverless vehicles doing patrols and delivering food and other life necessities to residents in the lockdown areas. China Mobile told the Global Times that the 5G anti-epidemic drones could conduct air patrol and spot residents wearing no masks and persuade them to abide by epidemic control measures. Drones could also spray disinfectants to improve the efficiency of epidemic work.

4. Fighting the unvaccinated at a Chinese car park

On March 18, 2022, footage went viral of PPE-clad workers fighting with residents in a Chinese parking lot. This highlighted the weariness of some residents who do not want to be vaccinated or follow the “dynamic zero” policy dealing with the covid outbreak.

Vaccine hesitancy was listed as one of the top three concerns for the government in implementing the zero policy. Professor Chi Chun-huei, director of the center for global health at Oregon University, calls the hesitancy the “paradox of the zero-covid policy”.

“When people in China assess the benefit versus risks of covid vaccination, the perceived benefit is nearly zero, while the perceived risks [of side effects and complications] are relatively high,” Chi told the Observer.

5. China won’t abandon zero covid policy

Realizing that the current covid outbreak is different and zero covid policy will not work this time, China approved the use of at-home rapid antigen tests and added the use of antiviral pills made by Pfizer to pandemic guidelines. It also declared an end to mandatory hospitalization of all covid patients and will send asymptomatic and mild cases to centralized isolation facilities.

Chi said China was unlikely to abandon “zero covid” and would rather fire dozens of local officials or punish them over the outbreak than change its direction.

“The CCP’s political legitimacy hinges on its capability to provide Chinese people with a stable and safe life, for which containing the cCovid-19 infection is critical,” Chi said.

Photo: Residents line up for covid tests March 17, 2022, in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)