China Covid: Xi's face-saving exit from his signature policy




  • In Business
  • 2022-12-05 12:17:00Z
  • By BBC
workers remove medical waste from building where people quarantine at home 05/12
workers remove medical waste from building where people quarantine at home 05/12  

If you want to know what the government's Covid plan is in China, look at what it does rather than what it says.

Take Beijing for example.

There has not been a significant drop in infections, yet public transport now no longer requires a PCR test result, bars and restaurants are slowly re-opening, and in some cases people are being allowed to isolate at home after catching Covid instead of going into centralised quarantine facilities.

So when you examine what is happening here right now, the trajectory seems clear - the government appears to have quietly dumped zero Covid as a goal.

This does not mean that all Covid-related restrictions have ended. It also does not mean some restrictions won't be around in, say, half a year.

But the stated goal of reducing each outbreak to zero new infections… gone.

The new plan appears to be to slow the spread of the virus, hopefully enabling the health system to cope, rather than trying crush the disease.

This may involve monitoring the virus as it spreads in an attempt to manage the flow of infections, serious illness and deaths.

At times it may also mean the reimposition of certain measures, but cities will not have to record zero cases to remain open.

Beijing is not alone in removing some measures - and they vary widely by region.

In south-eastern Zhejiang province for example, there is to be no more regular testing apart from for people working certain specific jobs.

Shandong province in the east will no longer require checks to buy cough medicine or drive on a highway; central Henan Province will no longer require PCR tests to enter housing communities.

Similar easing is also happening in the massive cities of Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Urumqi, capital of western Xinjiang region, has re-opened supermarkets, hotels, cinemas and gyms. Public transport has resumed in Tibet.

Just a few weeks ago, the Chinese government was urging the population to stay the course with the zero-Covid approach.

Despite overwhelming evidence that China's epidemic control measures were hammering the economy, smashing people's livelihoods, Xi Jinping stood up at the Great Hall of the People during the recent Communist Party Congress and re-stated that there would be no swerving from his signature policy.

Then came the protests.

A tower block fire in Urumqi killed 10 people, triggering a wave of public fury.

On social media, the deaths were blamed on Covid restrictions, which are said to have hampered the access of fire crews and blocked escape routes for residents. Beijing denies this and the BBC has not been able to verify the claims, but that the fire led to demonstrations across the country is not in dispute.

In city after city, protesters demanded an end to zero Covid. They wanted their old lives back. Some people started calling for Xi Jinping to resign.

There have not been such widespread acts of public defiance against the party since the 1989 political upheaval which led to the bloody crackdown in and around Tiananmen Square.

Suddenly changes are being made - and Chinese people are making jokes about how protests do actually work.

  • The new generation powering China's protests

  • Cloaking Xi Jinping dissent in Jiang nostalgia

Last week's death of former leader Jiang Zemin put even more pressure on the government. His era is viewed by many, nostalgically, as a period of reconnecting with the outside world and high-speed growth. The comparisons with the current situation are stark.

The other danger for Xi Jinping's administration was that acts of public mourning could transform into yet more protests. This had happened decades earlier after reformist leader Hu Yaobang died and crowds gathering to mark his passing transformed into the Tiananmen Square protest movement.

All this has led to a government that had drastically underestimated public anger at its Covid measures now abruptly changing tack.

A face-saving way of doing this has been required.

beijingers on train, 05/12
beijingers on train, 05/12  

Officials in China were never going to come out and apologise to people for keeping them cooped up much longer than necessary.

But the party is beginning to change its public messaging via state media, now saying that new strains of Covid are not nearly as deadly.

This is a clear change from the previous line that the rest of the world was going through Covid hell and citizens should consider themselves lucky to live in China where they were being kept safe.

Two significant challenges remain.

Firstly, the effort to get more people vaccinated, especially the elderly and those in high-risk groups, has been inadequate. Official figures show just 40% of people over the age of 80 have had a booster shot. Elderly unvaccinated people made up huge swathes of the deaths in Hong Kong.

  • Why have so few elderly Chinese been vaccinated?

Secondly, officials have had years to expand China's hospital ICU capacity. This remains inadequate, so a rush of emergency patients following any dramatic escalation in Covid cases would really test the health system.

For this reason, the goal will be to move forward slowly, trying to ensure that hospitals are not swamped. If they are then restrictions can always be reimposed.

China's new path will evolve step by step, even if it sometimes means going backwards again.

COMMENTS

More Related News

China says will
China says will 'safeguard interests' over balloon shootdown
  • US
  • 2023-02-07 10:17:30Z

China said Tuesday it will "resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests" over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon by the United...

China
China's luxury market shrank 10% in 2022 - Bain

China's luxury market contracted 10% in 2022 on the year, snapping a five-year streak of high growth, as Beijing's zero-COVID policy and a slowing economy...

Australian, New Zealand leaders
Australian, New Zealand leaders' talk focuses on China
  • US
  • 2023-02-07 05:28:48Z

Australian and New Zealand prime ministers met Tuesday to talk about China's importance to their national economies, resolving to voice their disagreements...

China
China's Baidu to finish testing ChatGPT-style project 'Ernie Bot' in March
  • US
  • 2023-02-07 02:13:58Z

BEIJING (Reuters) -China's Baidu Inc on Tuesday said it would complete internal testing of a ChatGPT-style project called "Ernie Bot" in March, joining a...

Oil rises on China outlook, supply worries after Turkey earthquake
Oil rises on China outlook, supply worries after Turkey earthquake

(Reuters) -Oil prices rose for a second straight session on Tuesday, driven by optimism about recovering demand in China, and concerns over supply shortages ...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Business