Opinion: what another five years of China without Covid might look like

While the phrase did not appear to be in Tsai’s original report and government censors quickly removed the misleading quote, the huge backlash sparked by the news on social media raises the question of whether China is really serious about realizing Covid zero as a long-term strategies. (let’s call it “long zero-covid”). And if so, how feasible is this and what does it mean for China and the world.

As Chinese government officials have repeatedly stated, the dynamic strategy to fight the coronavirus is not aimed at achieving absolute infection zero. Instead, it focuses on cutting the local chain of transmission and bringing the situation under control as soon as possible after a local outbreak or outbreak is detected.

However, with the emergence and global spread of new sub-variants that can evade the immunity provided by vaccination and previous infections, any victory over the virus in a Covid zero environment is short-lived.

The fact that China continues to face the threat of the virus justifies this strategy until the end of the pandemic (which is not expected anytime soon).

True, the Omicron option looks less severe than the original one – Shanghai registered 0.1% mortality from Covid-19 Happy April, 1 and May 31, at the same level as seasonal influenza.
Opinion: why Xi can't get out of Zero-Covid

State media and senior government epidemiologists nonetheless continue to highlight the dangers of this option, and a worst-case scenario involving mass deaths and the collapse of hospital systems still defines the official version of the potential consequences of moving away from zero Covid. .

Evidence of Covid-19 catastrophe in hong kong and the spike in cases in its East Asian neighbors following the rollback of Covid Zero, top management appears convinced to cling to Covid Zero until the end of the pandemic (or at least until truly effective vaccines or therapeutics become widely available). ) is the only viable approach to avoid the worst-case scenario.
And if China manages to achieve this goal, it can still claim the success of its response to the pandemic and claim that it demonstrates the superiority of its political system. During a visit to Wuhan on Tuesday, President Xi Jinping argued that China’s response to Covid-19 is the most cost-effective and efficient in the world, and that the country “has the capacity and strength to realize dynamic Covid zero until it achieves final victory.”
How feasible is a long zero Covid? It is difficult to dispute the fact that this policy is associated with significant socio-economic costs and increasingly unpopular among the Chinese middle class. But in a country where those in power are not accountable to the people, popularity has rarely been the main driving force behind the public policy process.
One child policy was deployed despite the fact that it grossly violated the freedom of reproduction that the Chinese had enjoyed for several thousand years. Indeed, the proposal was originally presented to members of the Communist Party and the Youth League in 1980, but the idea was soon institutionalized and internalized as a “core state policy” that lasted for the next 36 years.
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In the same vein, China has moved to routinely control the pandemic through regular PCR testing and thorough medical examinations in residential areas and public places. The ability to block Covid-19 infections in Shanghai and Beijing instills confidence among decision makers that the Chinese state is still resilient and resourceful enough to contain the virus, no matter how costly and difficult.

Other developments are also facilitating the drive towards a long zero Covid. Despite growing social discontent in large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, public support for this policy remains strong in smaller cities and rural areas (where access to alternative information remains very limited).

Many Chinese do not oppose covid zero, not only because of its promised health benefits, but also because of the non-medical consequences of infection (such as stigma and strict quarantine and isolation).

Over time, the marginal cost of implementing the strategy may become more affordable due to easier access to testing facilities, sharper reductions in the cost of conducting mass testing, heavy reliance on high-tech tools and social forces to monitor people’s movements, and the internalization of the zero Covid rule in Chinese society.

However, the socio-political, economic and foreign policy implications of a long absence from the coronavirus could be much deeper and longer lasting than the government thinks.

Once people realize that Covid zero is no longer a passing phenomenon, they will adapt to change by adjusting their expectations and behaviors. As the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times said admitted he once learned about a possible continuation of zero covid in Beijing: “No one wants to live in Beijing for the next five years the way they lived the first half of this year.”
Citizens may more strongly disregard the future and adopt an attitude of hopelessness. The mental health problem in China is already deteriorated due to the pandemic, will definitely be exacerbated by the long zero Covid. Collectively, more people may dare to engage in risky behavior, even turning their backs on the government.
The government’s refusal to exit Covid zero could also accelerate the trend people leaving the system and emigrating. The growing uncertainty and risk of doing business in China is also likely to encourage investors to reduce their presence in China, leading to a massive exodus of expats.
Meanwhile, a prolonged zero Covid rate will keep foreigners from visiting China, even as the government relaxed entry requirements. In response, China may become more closed, even degenerate into a different hermit kingdom.

And with increased misunderstanding and distrust between China and the West, the fall of the bamboo curtain will no longer be a distant reality.