China’s deepening battle with COVID-19

IIf Vladimir Putin hadn’t ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the headline story right now would have been the growing war between China and COVID-19. In Shanghai (about 26 million inhabitants), state officials announced on March 27 that the eastern half of the city would be closed until April 1 because mass COVID-19 testing. When that is completed, the western half will be closed until April 5. Health officials conduct tests on closed areas and an infected resident could be forced in.
a quarantine facility.

Tens of millions of people in Jilin province and technology center city Shenzhen (pop. 17.5 million) has been locked. But the closure of Shanghai, the financial and commercial hub of the world’s second-largest economy, is the most drastic move yet seen as part of the pandemic. The “no COVID” policy, a plan designed to keep the number of COVID-19 infections as close to zero as possible. The plan was successful in limiting the spread of the virus. Chinese leaders have reported fewer than 5,000 deaths for the duration of the pandemic as the US death toll approaches nearly 1 million. Even if China’s official numbers are questionable (and rightfully so), the loss of life has certainly been much closer to the levels reported in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, which so far have come close. This has also implemented extremely strict COVID control. policies.

But zero-COVID is exactly a heavy economic loss. China’s economic growth has slowed for years as rising wages reduce the incentive for foreign companies to use China as a manufacturing hub and large-scale state investment in infrastructure development and real estate creates excess supply of both. The pandemic and war in Ukraine have increased the costs everyone, including China, has to pay to import fuel, food, and other items. Shutting down half of Shanghai, even for a few days, will add to the burden.

This fact has forced the relaxation of some of the zero-COVID rules. Instead of being forced into overcrowded hospitals, infected people with mild symptoms can now report them to local quarantine facilities. The duration of some quarantine zones has been reduced. But despite the economic damage that has been done, the massive shutdown in Shanghai proves that the Chinese government is not ready to change course.

All of these troubles come at a politically sensitive time. This fall, the Communist Party Congress is expected to pass a landmark decision to give Xi Jinping a third term as China’s leader. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Mr. Xi has tried to blame the origins of COVID-19 and the initial censorship that allowed the virus to spread globally. He made his case for the superiority of the Chinese system by pointing to political turmoil, economic recession and higher death tolls in the US and Europe.

But the Omicron variant has made life in China a lot more complicated. It hit the country hard because very few Chinese have been infected with COVID-19 or given the more effective vaccines found in the US and Europe.

Mr. Xi can hope that new treatments and the development of a domestically produced drug mRNA vaccine will come sooner rather than later. But the risk is growing that the COVID-19 disrupting Chinese lives will get worse before it gets better — and that Xi will have to carefully manage the economic and political situation. to keep its consolidation of long-term political control on track.

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