China witnesses fear, anger, confusion over continuation of ineffective, harmful Zero Covid policy …. Writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
The Xi Jinping government’s Zero Covid policy, which led to huge damage to the livelihoods and economy and caused suffering to people, appears to have failed miserably. New cases of coronavirus are being found in several places including the financial hub of Shanghai and the origin of the pandemic Wuhan. At least 1,000 cases are being reported in China every day, forcing lockdowns in many cities. People want the government to manage it in a proper way not hurting their lives and livelihoods. Yet, the government has decided to continue with the policy, which has caused fear, anger, and confusion among the Chinese people. People are getting anxious as stricter barriers would disrupt their lives again. “My arms are literally trembling. I really don’t know if my mental health would be able to withstand another isolation,” said Zhang Weiya, a Shanghai resident, who is concerned about her four-year-old child.
Just six months ago, the people of Shanghai endured a two-month-long lockdown, which they said had forced them to live in inhuman conditions. Now, they are scared about its repetition. Government agencies have already ordered mass testing on 1.3 million people in Shanghai and ordered them to stay inside their homes until the results are out. Shops, schools, and restaurants have been asked to shut down in different parts of the country. Secretary of Datong City’s Municipality Lu Dongliang left the Communist Party’s crucial National Congress meeting midway and returned as he found the city was in a “dire situation.”
The famous tourist spot Disney Resort in Shanghai saw operations being suspended without any notice. The visitors and people living in the surroundings were subjected to strict measures. About 30,000 people inside the resort were not allowed unless their corona test did not come negative. At least 31 cities are under lockdown, which has affected over 232 million people’s lives. The Universal Resort in Beijing too has been shut down as fresh cases of Covid are rising in the capital city. A similar lockdown was enforced in Apple’s iPhone assembly factory in Zhengzhou. However, workers fled the factory by jumping over the wall to escape forced quarantine.
Zero Covid could not contain coronavirus. But the government has persisted with it. Xi Jinping has signalled that Zero Covid policy will continue saying calling it a “people’s war to stop the spread of the virus”. This has made people apprehensive about fallouts that will lead to a shortage of food, water, and medicine, restrict their movement, and force separation from children. Citizens from Beijing to Tibet have started protesting against the Zero Covid policy.
Youths are expressing anger on social media. One unknown protester put a banner near the venue of the National Congress, which read “Say no to Covid test, yes to food. No to lockdown, yes to freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity.” Another banner said, “Go on strike, remove the dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping.” Many in otherwise peaceful Lhasa in Tibet came on the street against the Zero Covid policy. Most of the protestors were migrant Chinese Han people.
People are fearful about their livelihood since Zero Covid has dealt a serious blow to their incomes and has caused job losses. “I don’t know how long it will continue to be like this. I can’t find hope,” said one angry citizen on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok. “We haven’t had any income for three months – but expenses have not been reduced even by a penny,” said another post.
Zero Covid policy appears to be hurting China rather than helping it. It has devastated the local economy, lead to livelihood losses, and slowed down industry output. Xi Jinping’s insistence on Zero Covid has led economists to downgrade the growth rate to 3.3 per cent in 2022 and 4.8 per cent in 2024. Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, said “We are not seeing any signs of fundamental change in policy, that’s for sure. Officials are still stressing the danger of the virus to support the narrative that it puts China at risk.” He warned Xi administration may put strict control if a new wave of Covid cases occurs.
According to observers, Zero Covid would stay at least till March 2023 when the political shuffle –post-20th National Congress of Chinese Communist Party—will be completed. “Domestic Covid case numbers have been clearly on an upward trajectory. The national lockdown situation has been getting … significantly worse,” Nomura chief China economist Ting Lu said. The political compulsion would continue to bleed the Chinese people.