opinion | China’s ‘zero-covid’ policy is not working


After the pandemic, a semblance of normal life has returned in many places, thanks to vaccines and other measures. People are living with the coronavirus while reducing serious illness, hospitalization and death. But the Chinese government under Xi Jinping has refused to deviate from its “zero covid” approach, using strict lockdowns in an effort to eradicate any infection. The policy is outdated and failing and should be dumped.

Zero covid has turned entire cities like Xi’an, or parts of a metropolis like Shanghai, into ghost towns. Residents are ordered to stay indoors or locked up in special quarantine centers when only a handful of infections are detected. China has also deployed its own vaccines to fight the virus, although the elderly remain undervaccinated and the injections are not as effective as the mRNA vaccines. China has boasted of a pandemic response that it claims is better than other countries’, but its reported 28,579 covid deaths are almost certainly an undercount.

By sticking to zero covid, China has forced millions of people to isolate themselves for weeks at a time, often without food and medicine. Wuhan reported about 20 to 25 new infections per day last week; city ​​authorities ordered more than 800,000 people in one district to stay at home. After six cases were discovered at the iPhone factory in Zhengzhou on October 12 and another 11 the following day, the factory closed itself off from the world in what’s known as a “closed loop,” forcing its 200,000 workers to enter. stay. plant and dormitories, while transporting the infected to quarantine. This prompted hundreds of frightened workers to flee on foot. Guangzhou, China’s fourth-largest city, is experiencing a major spike in infections. The Disney resort in Shanghai closed its doors for the second time this year.

China faces serious risks if it remains at this rate. The Communist Party gives high priority to maintaining social stability; constantly bottled, people are getting restless, their patience tested by the endless lockdowns. The disruptions will bring down China’s battered economy. Chinese elderly remain vulnerable to the ommicron variant. More transmission and disease mean more chance of mutation and new variants that can pose a challenge to the whole world.

Xi’s fixation on zero covid reflects an unfortunate tendency toward dictators. Absolute rulers don’t like to admit they were wrong, especially after years of propaganda declaring they were absolutely right. But Mr. Xi, having secured his third term, must now change tactics. Lockdowns were necessary when no one knew about the virus and vaccines did not exist, but other tools are now available. China could buy doses of mRNA vaccines and get those shots in the arms. It was a good sign that China agreed with Germany on Friday to let mainland expats receive the mRNA vaccine from Pfizer’s partner BioNTech. The deal should be extended to Chinese citizens. Instead of locking people up in quarantine centers, China should allow citizens to decide when to isolate themselves at home if they are sick. No one has been perfect at fighting the pandemic — least of all the United States — but there is a way back to normal for China, if it chooses to take it.

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