After days of touting the multi-stage quarantine and testing strategy deployed in Shanghai as a pioneering experiment in soft-touch pandemic control techniques, Chinese state media abruptly reversed itself on Wednesday and hailed dictator Xi Jinping for demanding nothing less than total lockdowns in response to every outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) highlighted an editorial from the Xinhua state news agency apparently crafted to end all speculation that China is moving closer to the “living with Covid” approach adopted by most of the rest of the world.
According to the editorial, Xi has “personally drawn up” a set of “zero-Covid” policies to crush the highly contagious omicron variant and will “lead the fight” to ensure they are continuously implemented, even as other world governments are beginning to treat Chinese coronavirus like any other disease.
“Ever since epidemic prevention and control became the norm, General Secretary Xi Jinping has personally directed the deployment of epidemic prevention and control work, and established the general strategy to prevent imported cases and internal rebounds and the general policy of dynamic zero-Covid,” Xinhua gushed.
“Dynamic zero-Covid” is a somewhat malleable Chinese Communist Party buzz phrase that means “imposing the toughest lockdowns we can get away with.” The concept was invented by the Party after some exceptionally severe citywide lockdowns caused major economic damage and drew international attention to their thoughtless cruelty.
The mayor of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of a viral outbreak, told Chinese state TV on Sunday that 5 million people left before the lockdown. https://t.co/cNcCnCQJt0
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) January 28, 2020
As the SCMP pointed out, China’s original policy of incredibly strict lockdowns supposedly kept the coronavirus “at bay” until massive omicron outbreaks began sweeping the country a few months ago. The Chinese public grew anxious that their government would subject them to crushing lockdowns again, with no end in sight for the harsh policies, while international business interests expressed concerns about Chinese lockdowns disrupting global manufacturing, shipping, and financial transactions.
Chinese state media admitted yesterday that the relatively flexible two-stage lockdown imposed on Shanghai was crafted to acknowledge the impossibility of shutting the huge, wealthy, and economically vital city down.
Residents of other shuttered cities and towns grumbled that Shanghai was enjoying special treatment, while residents of Shanghai glumly noted that it was not really all that special, as the city was gripped by apocalyptic panic and confusion. China’s lockdowns tend to be imposed with very little notice, even on huge cities with populations in the tens of millions, presumably because the authorities do not want people to flee the cities before the gates are padlocked.
The SCMP suspected Chinese officials are nervous about the severe coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, so they are acting harshly when outbreaks are detected in other cities of comparable size.
There also seems to be growing embarrassment among Chinese officials that elderly people – the most vulnerable population to every strain of Chinese coronavirus – were not vaccinated, apparently because the authorities “wrongly believed that jabbing the young would ensure enough herd immunity to prevent infection among the old.”
University of Hong Kong virologist Jin Dongyan child the mainland government for sticking with its “harmful” policies, a decision health officials cannot openly oppose due to Communist Party “politics.”
“If you can have more than 90 per cent vaccination rate in the elderly, then the communities are safe. That’s a very important message for them to learn,” Jin told the SCMP.
The Financial Times (FT) on Wednesday explained that China’s vast elderly population has low rates of full vaccination because older people believed state propaganda that the coronavirus was completely under control, so they felt no urgent need to get the shots and risk side effects. Also, older Chinese are more likely to put their faith in traditional herbal cures instead of modern science.
The FT report also implied Chinese officials did not push hard for the elderly to get vaccinated because they were nervous about revealing that Chinese vaccines are considerably less effective than Western shots. High vaccination rates among the elderly coupled with high levels of infection and death would have made this reality much more difficult to conceal.
Xinhua ran an article on Wednesday congratulating Chinese health officials for “acting swiftly to contain the Covid-19 resurgence.”
The article rattled off a stream of statistics – people quarantined, emergency hospitals built, tests administered – to demonstrate that “dynamic zero-Covid” policies are supposedly working to contain even the omicron variant, but even this triumphalist dispatch was obliged to mention the problem with unvaccinated elderly people:
An orderly and swift quarantine procedure to harbor as many infections as possible is vital to ensuring effective epidemic prevention and control measures against the Omicron variant, according to Chen Erzhen, who is in charge of medical treatment in Shanghai’s isolation venues.
“Though highly transmissive, the virulence of the Omicron variant is gradually decreasing, which explains the large number of asymptomatic infections,” noted Chen.
“But for some elderly people with underlying disease, there’s a risk of aggravation, so isolation is requisite at this moment,” Chen said.
The Xinhua piece took pains to frame the Shanghai outbreak as a “booming number of asymptomatic cases,” alluding to one of the bookkeeping tricks China uses to keep its coronavirus case numbers low: unlike just about every other nation in the world, China generally does not count patients without visible signs of illness as infected, even when they test positive for Chinese coronavirus.