This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.
China’s Zero-Covid strategy has reached a breaking point. The country is so obsessed with keeping cases to literally zero that its latest draconian measures in its financial capital, Shanghai,are backfiring big time. Until now,China’s largest city, Shanghai, had kept Covid cases under control largely through localized lockdowns. But the entire city of 26 million people has been grounded by the government from the 5th of April, with each and every person ordered to stay at home as Covid cases rose. Heartbreaking images and videos have emerged over the last week showing residents of the city’s fancy high-rise residences screaming from their windows and balconies for help. They’re not just trapped in their homes with very strict rules that don’t allow them to leave, but have also run out of food in many areas. These videos have gone viral on social media, and you can see and hear frustrated residents and also, hear authorities who are warning them of consequences for speaking up.
There is also outrage over the policy of separating children from their parents. The rules say that those who test positive, including infants and little children, must isolate in quarantine facilities or hospitals with no family contact allowed at all. This has now become a source of massive anger after videos went viral online of unaccompanied infants crying in a Shanghai Covid-19 hospital. Foreign diplomats from more than 30 countries have written letters of protest. While many lawyers and doctors wrote articles arguing against the draconian policy. There was also an online petition which was started that was quickly censored by authorities, as were many social media posts.On Tuesday, the United States ordered all non-essential government staff to leave Shanghai, citing the Covid-19 outbreak and the restrictions in the city.
Well-known public health scientist, the US-based, Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding posted some videos from Shanghai of anguished citizens crying out for help. He tweeted that the people will not be able to hold out much longer, and it could lead to a tragedy. The health experts said that China might be hitting a breaking point with Omicron’s BA.2 variant, which is leading the surge in cases there. The lockdown was a last minute announcement, which did not give most residents of Shanghai time to stock up on food and essentials. The delivery of food locally by government officials has been sporadic and uneven. Some neighborhoods are fine, while others have seen huge shortages.
For a country that does not allow any dissent, it has been remarkable to see angry citizens raising their voices on social media. As the backlash has grown, Chinese authorities on Monday announced that they would ease restrictions in some neighborhoods, at least in those areas with fewer Covid cases. But it’s still not clear how many people are actually being allowed out of their homes and when. According to a Bloomberg report,people living in places where lockdowns were technically eased said that they were still barred or discouraged from leaving their compounds by neighborhood committee personnel and that those who did make it out onto the streets said all shops were closed and those that were open, the few that were, they were asked to leave by the staff very quickly.
At the moment, the rules are so tough that people can’t even leave their homes to buy food, so it’s the government, as we said earlier, that’s delivering everyone supplies but that’s not been happening everywhere, leading to those near-food riots. One Southern district, which falls into the category of the lowest number of cases, said that it would now allow residents to go out and buy supplies once a day. Shanghai has been placed under some of the most severe measures since the virus emerged in Wuhan back in 2019. Apart from mass testing, thousands have been sent to centralized quarantine centers. Even when case numbers rose to nearly 1800 in March of 2021, Shanghai did not impose a full lockdown. The city of Xi’an, which has a population of 13 million, sealed the entire city after less than 100 cases in December last year. The city of Yuzhou, with over 1.1 million people shut down completely due to just three Covid cases. But there is an important reason that Shanghai did not face the kind of restrictions that other cities did during the crisis.
That’s because it’s very important for the Chinese economy. According to the BBC, the city contributes to over 3% of China’s GDP and 10% of its total trade since 2018. Studies from the Chinese University of Hong Kong show a two-week lockdown on megacities like Beijing or Shanghai could cost China 2% of its monthly GDP. Vaccinations are another issue. China says it vaccinated over 86% of its entire population. But vaccine rates among people over the age of 80 are much lower than other age groups. Until now, China has relied on its own vaccines, which studies have found to be inadequate against Omicron. Now authorities have approved clinical trials of two Covid vaccines that use mRNA technology like the ones in Pfizer and Moderna.