Since the Chinese government enacted a new “Twenty Measures” policy to ease COVID-19 restrictions on November 11, its abandonment of the zero-COVID policy has caused confusion and concern among people.
Although the government still claims to be committed to a zero-COVID policy, the relaxation of measures such as mass testing, contact tracing and quarantine protocols in the Twenty Steps clearly signals the beginning of a shift in policy.
At the same time, the rapid rise in infections in the world’s most populous country has fueled uncertainty and debate after nearly three years in which a zero-covid policy has repeatedly stifled transmission.
‘Measure Twenty’ includes restrictions on the ability of local governments to impose lockdowns, as well as reducing quarantine times for close contacts of infected people, easing the country’s travel restrictions to and within China and ending secondary contact tracing.
Although it served as a national guiding policy, the “Twenty Measures” were first fully implemented in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province. This city of 11 million people near Beijing has become the first testing ground for the reopening policy.
China’s ruling class and many media outlets were the first to sound the alarm, with some statements even comparing the policy shift during the civil war against Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang to the “liberation of Shizhuang in 1947.”
Even according to official data, the number of cases has increased significantly after the easing of restrictions. On November 9, Shijiazhuang reported only 59 asymptomatic cases, but on November 13, the number increased to 3 new confirmed cases and 541 asymptomatic cases without a decrease for three consecutive days.
Many media focused on this extraordinary “achievement”. But it was debated and ridiculed on social networks.
A comment there warned: “Make no mistake. Now that the tests are canceled, this data will naturally decrease. But this false information has no meaning.” Another said: “80% of my family members are infected, but you say the data is down by 80%. It is the first time that I feel that the pandemic is so close to me. »
At the same time, the Shijiazhuang municipal government issued a “letter to all residents,” stating that “everyone” is primarily “responsible for their own health.” Although the letter claims that this “doesn’t facilitate the prevention of the epidemic”, the public response shows that this claim is not believed.
Contrary to media claims, Shijiazhuang has not become the scene of a “consumption revival leading to economic revival”. A restaurateur said on a social network: “Since the opening, the turnover of the restaurant has decreased. Our people have not been deceived, they will not run the risk of infection by going out to eat. »
A primary school parent said, “On the first day of the new school year, only two of the 52 students in the class came to school.”
According to media reports, many pharmacies have run out of face masks and Lianhua Qingwen capsules. Lianhua Qingwen capsules are a Chinese patent medicine believed to relieve fever symptoms.
A rapid increase in the number of infections then dampened the media’s earlier excitement. While only 182 new asymptomatic infections were added on November 16, two new cases and 639 asymptomatic infections were confirmed in Shijiazhuang on November 20, according to the Hebei Provincial Health Commission. Although still relatively low, these numbers indicate a threat of an explosion in the number of infections.
When authorities in Shijiazhuang announced the cancellation of normal PCR tests, residents were alarmed and feared it would accelerate infections. “Even if a test site is needed, it shouldn’t be Shijiazhuang,” said one. “It is absurd and irresponsible to suddenly relax all measures when the number of infections is increasing rapidly. This is by no means scientific. »
Due to the rapid increase in cases, the Shijiazhuang City Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters announced on the evening of November 20 that nucleic acid tests would be conducted in several urban areas of the city for five consecutive days.
The notice says it is necessary to “concentrate efforts to bring the pandemic under control in key sectors and prevent the spread of the epidemic as soon as possible.” This was necessary to achieve “dynamic zero COVID” at the social level, “to protect people’s life and health as much as possible and to minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development.”
The notification states that residents of high-risk areas should strictly stay at home, while residents of other areas should stay at home in principle. Residents should go out or gather only when necessary and minimize the flow of people except for city operations, market supply assurance, public services, and epidemic prevention and control workers.
The notice also stated that in order to meet the daily needs of the residents, each family can arrange for one person to go out on the street for two hours a day and buy basic necessities with a 24-hour PCR test certificate.
The lack of clarity in the government’s position has created confusion. According to reports on the Internet, there is reason to believe that many cities are re-introducing parking policies in high-risk areas. Guangzhou’s Baiyun District also announced a five-day lockdown on Monday. With a population of more than 18 million, Guangzhou is one of the Chinese cities hardest hit by the current pandemic.
But the implementation of relevant measures is mainly communicated orally and in vague language. One blogger describes the situation: “I asked my friends who worked in the public sector in Beijing and Shijiazhuang, and none of them knew what to do, and there was no clear policy, so they could only guess. This message was widely appreciated.
Despite widespread public opinion that the new policy has failed, the current official explanation is that local governments are adjusting the policy based on the Twenty Steps.
The bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) clearly faces a dilemma. On the one hand, it faces enormous economic pressure from large global and national corporations to abandon its zero-COVID policy, and on the other hand, growing public concerns that the pandemic is spreading rapidly.
China reported 2,225 new confirmed cases and 25,902 new asymptomatic infections on November 21, down from a record high of 27,095 the previous day to 28,127, according to official data.
the World Socialist Web Site there is warnedAgainst the disastrous consequences of the CCP’s policy change on November 18: “If the situation in mainland China gets out of control, it would be a world-historical tragedy. China has a population of 1.4 billion, which is one-sixth of the world’s population. »
(Article published in English on 23 November 2022)