China: why zero covid case policy sparks protests
- Author, BBC News World
- role, Media
The zero-covid policy implemented by the Chinese authorities to fight the new wave of coronavirus cases has caused a popular uprising. A series of demonstrations are held simultaneously in several major cities of the country. The Chinese are protesting what they see as harsh prison rules.
Thousands of people took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the measures taken by the Chinese government. Indeed, the authorities want to prevent new cases of covid. Among the protesters, some went so far as to openly criticize Xi Jinping’s government and the Chinese Communist Party.
Analysts say the popular uprising is reminiscent of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
How to analyze the situation? Still, the Chinese authorities want to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country? The strategies implemented by the government have paid off. Storage has reduced the incidence of infection. Even the number of deaths has decreased.
China has reported 9.6 million infections and nearly 30,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization.
Unlike the US. Uncle Sam’s country has recorded 97 million cases and 1 million deaths. A quarter of the American population is Chinese.
China has been able to contain the spread of the coronavirus thanks to strict measures such as closing its borders or locking down cities with millions of residents for weeks.
Inevitably, the daily habits of the population have changed. Economic activity is not spared. International organizations hope for a 2.8% GDP growth.
Xi Jinping’s government plans a rate of 5.5%
“China is experiencing socio-economic instability due to its so-called “zero covid” policy. It imposes very strict rules on people and communities,” Jack Chow, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and former deputy director-general of the World Health Organization, told BBC Mundo.
He warns that anti-covid measures taken by the government risk further stabilizing an already harmful social climate.
“Despite all these strict measures, the number of covid cases continued to increase,” he says.
“Another important point is that the Chinese economy is slowing down. This has implications for supply chains globally.”
“Finally, the restrictions start to annoy people. »
After the protests, the Chinese government cooperated. Authorities lifted quarantines in dozens of districts in Shanghai and Guangzhou on Thursday. These two cities are the epicenter of the pandemic. Restrictions have been eased in Beijing.
Despite this, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan announced that the country is vulnerable to the coronavirus.
But any change carries serious risks for the country.
An inflexible strategy
In the early stages of the pandemic, when there was no vaccine against covid-19, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea implemented strategies similar to China’s zero-covid policy.
Along with coronavirus vaccines and other treatments, these states have lifted lockdowns and opened borders. Beijing continues the same policy.
Today, while the rest of the world is learning to live with the virus, Beijing is sticking to its stance and implementing containment measures.
The chain of infection was mastered, but at the same time, the population was exposed to disease because it did not develop natural immunity.
This theory, put forward by Yanzhong Huang, senior global health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, calls it “herd immunity.”
“The population in the rest of the world is immune. Two factors appeared: vaccines and natural infection. But that’s not the case in China,” Jin Dong-Yan, a professor of molecular virology at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, explained last February.
Beijing, which does not allow the use of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines developed in the West.
According to the Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker, eight COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for use in China, but none use mRNA technology.
Among the vaccines developed by the Asian giant is already the mRNA-based Walvax, but it has been approved for use in Indonesia, not China.
“Herd immunity to COVID-19 cannot be achieved without an effective vaccine, and unapproved vaccines in China have been shown to be less effective than RNA vaccines used in Europe and the United States,” Yanzhong Huang warned in his article. Foreign affairs last January.
Eurasia Group, a consulting company, warned Beijing in its annual report on major geopolitical risks. He thinks China’s zero covid policy is more of a global threat. in its annual report on key geopolitical risks.
“China is in the most difficult situation. Talk: his zero-covid policy that worked incredibly well in 2020. Now it’s about fighting more infectious variants. »
“And the population has practically no antibodies against the omicron [l’une des variantes les plus répandues du covid]. Keeping the country closed for two years has made it more vulnerable,” the report said.
Because China’s population lacks herd immunity, authorities face the risk of new contamination that could collapse China’s healthcare system.
“The collapse of the healthcare system would be a huge disaster. Many of the deaths in Wuhan are attributed to the fragility of China’s health care system. Jin Dong-Yan explained in an interview with BBC Mundo.
There is no guarantee that China has adequate technical platforms to deal with a new wave of covid.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Yanzhong Huang warned that Beijing should have increased the number of intensive care unit beds and launched a good campaign two and a half years ago. But the mere fact of focusing on conservation explains the current situation.
Former WHO deputy director Jack Chow believes that China is heading into uncertain times.
“Maintaining protection may lower the COVID-19 curve, but it will continue to increase socioeconomic stress.
The other way would be to start easing measures in response to social problems, taking the risk of witnessing an acceleration of infections,” he said.
After the recently announced measures, it appears that the government is favoring this second path in some places, but it is not a small risk.
Statistics released this week by health consultancy Airfinity show that 1.3 to 2.1 million lives would be at risk if Beijing lifted its zero-covid policy now.
Therefore, Chow thinks China may choose to redouble its efforts by focusing on prevention and integration of mRNA vaccines.
“They have a lot of experience with mask use and social distancing, but they haven’t diversified their vaccine options to include the main vaccines developed in the West. »
The decision could reduce risks by easing containment measures, resulting in a spike in infections that would overwhelm the Chinese health system.
However, Chow says that even if Western vaccines are updated to deal with new variants, there may be other factors that make use difficult.
“The question is, is their choice of vaccine based on political pressure?” Do they see the use of Western vaccines as a sign of failure or superiority?
I would say that the most effective strategy in dealing with a pandemic is to use the most effective means, regardless of where it comes from. Thus, there are likely political considerations that make China’s strategy more complex.
In addition to these considerations, it should be noted that the zero-covid policy is one of the “flagship” measures of President Xi Jinping’s government, which observers say now complicates a radical change in strategy.
So the situation Beijing faces is between the risks of the health system collapsing due to a wave of unchecked infections and the political risks that could mean changing course, including allowing the use of Western vaccines in the country. its zero covid policy is reminiscent of what happens to those who ride a tiger, according to an ancient Chinese proverb: Once you ride it, you dare not get off.