China’s Zero-Covid Policy Is Here To Stay For Now

HOPES THAT CHINA’S zero-Covid policy is about to be lifted remain just that, hopes. China will continue to adhere to the policy — ‘unswervingly’ was the word used by health officials at a briefing today.

Hu Xiang, from the National Health Commission’s disease prevention and control bureau, said:

Previous practices have proved that our prevention and control plans and a series of strategic measures are completely correct…The policies are also the most economical and effective.

The second sentence strikes this Bystander as the more salient. The economic cost of putting cities and factories under prolonged lockdowns had been advanced as the reason that Xi Jinping would ease the stringent restrictions he has imposed since the get-go to control the pandemic.

That may have temporarily boosted the share prices of Chinese equities, much in need of a lift, but ignored that politics and Party survival trump economics in Xi’s China, and the continuing under-vaccination of the population and the relative inefficiency of the vaccine that has been given.

Beijing has made much of how few of its citizens have died from Covid-19 (less than 29,000 deaths is the official number) compared to the rest of the world (more than 1 million in the United States, for example). It has paraded such numbers as a sign of the Party’s care for the people and the superiority of China’s governance over other systems. It will not readily give up that narrative.

China has administered 3.5 billion doses of vaccine. However, swathes of vulnerable elderly remain un- or under-vaccinated, and millions of all ages are at risk from the new variants against which indigenous vaccines are not particularly effective.

Lifting zero Covid would raise the likelihood of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of deaths, a politically unacceptable risk to the leadership. The fragility of public health services, especially in third-tier cities would also be exposed again.

A further concern is that lockdown fatigue among the public may turn into something more threatening than displays of angry frustration, which are widespread.

The approval for the German vaccine BioNTech to be given to ex-pats, announced after German Chancellor Olaf Sholz’s visit, may be a sign that Beijing’s resistance to foreign vaccines is waning and that large-scale imports that would provide widespread protection for the general population may be coming.

However, it would still likely not be until next spring at the earliest that vaccination levels would be at levels that would allow more leeway in keeping more of daily life going when new infection outbreaks are detected.

In the meantime, there will likely be small, cautious steps in the direction of more flexibility in zero-Covid implementation. It has already been announced that more international flights will be allowed, although that will have a de minimus impact on domestic lockdowns as quarantine restrictions will still apply.

Local authorities will also be pressed by Beijing not to be overzealous in their imposition of zero-Covid measures when local outbreaks occur. However, local officials know that in the Xi era, careers are not damaged by erring on the side of caution when it comes to implementing the leader’s flagship policies.

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One response to “China’s Zero-Covid Policy Is Here To Stay For Now

  1. Pingback: Covid Outbreaks Across China Stress Zero-Covid Policy | China Bystander

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