China Won’t End Its Zero Covid Policy…Here is Why
For a video presentation of today’s article, please click here:
China will not end it’s Zero Covid policy and the biggest reason for this decision is actual political. But first, let me be completely honest with everyone. I’m very concerned with the Covid situation and future of China. Everyone knows about the 25 million people under strict lockdown in Shanghai but currently there are over 45 cities across China that are under some form of lockdown.
In this article from China state media, experts at Beijing University are predicting the total number of infections in Shanghai is likely to reach 650,000-700,000 by the middle of June. The situation in China is extremely worrying and in today’s article I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about the Shanghai lockdown and the future of Covid in China.
First of all, how did Shanghai get to this point and what exactly went wrong?
In early March, new Covid cases emerged in Shanghai and local officials decided to do something different. Initially Shanghai officials stated the city would NOT go into a full lockdown as this would negatively impact both domestic & global economies. Instead Shanghai officials locked down the city in two parts for four days and then later divided the city into different sections as shown in this hotpot photo illustration:
However, this new shift in policy failed to contain the spread of the virus and as things began to get worse, government officials from Beijing stepped in to control the situation. Worried about Shanghai, the economic powerhouse of China, Beijing officials decided to lock the entire city down. Here we are a few weeks later and depending on which area of Shanghai you live in, you have been locked down in your home anywhere from 20-35 days already.
So How Bad is the Situation in Shanghai Now?
Shanghai reported 27,719 new infections on April 14th a new record high for daily cases. However over 96% of these new infections are now among people in quarantine or living within a “closed-loop system”. China’s government has been administering Covid tests for the entire 25 million population every other day and anyone who tests positive is removed from their home and sent to centralized quarantine facilities.
China believes that separating infected patients from society is the most effective way to stop the transmission chains. However, this has caused an tremendous amount of anxiety and fear amongst Chinese people. Right now in Shanghai, people are fearing the quarantine facilities more than Covid itself. Just a few days ago, the #1 trending hashtag on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent to Twitter) was: “Why Can’t People Infected with Covid-19 Isolate at Home?” #新冠感染者为什么不能居家隔离.
So When Will the Shanghai Lockdown End?
The new metric to watch is the number of cases found among people who aren’t yet in quarantine. It’s when that metric -- known as “zero infection in the society” falls to zero that China considers an outbreak contained. Once zero community spread has been achieved, Shanghai can start reopening the city. There is no timetable on when this can be achieved and with new cases rising still every day, it most likely will be several more weeks of lockdowns.
What Do People in Shanghai Think About This Ordeal?
In doing my research for today’s article, I’ve spoken with dozens of foreign and Chinese friends on the ground in Shanghai and everyone is feeling the same thing. People are frustrated, mentally exhausted, and beginning to get angry. This entire situation is an absolute nightmare. For many foreigners this ordeal will fundamentally shift how they view China in the future. For the last two years, foreigners in China have lived a normal life. While Covid spread throughout the world killing millions, China was a safe haven. But now everything has changed. Several people I spoke to believe this lockdown will cause many foreigners to reconsider their plans to stay in China long term. I agree with this thought and predict a large exodus of foreigners leaving China later this year. Of course, the Chinese colleagues I’ve spoken to have only one option. They can only put their faith in the government, follow the rules, and hope for the best. One of my former Chinese colleagues described the lockdowns as a prison and expressed her frustration that she hasn’t left her apartment in over 30 days. She ended the conversation by stating I don’t like the policies, but the rules are the rules. We can only follow the rules.
Despite the hardships these lockdowns are causing, there are still Chinese who are supportive of the Zero Covid policy. They are quick to argue China’s healthcare infrastructure would crumble, if they had a similar outbreak to that of the US, which has seen 80 million cases and nearly 1 million deaths since the pandemic began. The situation that scares Chinese people the most is Hong Kong, which saw a massive Covid outbreak across the city just one month ago. At its peak, this new outbreak brought in nearly 80k new cases a day and in the span of a 6 weeks, over 8,000 people died, giving Hong Kong one of the highest Covid fatality rates in the world. A simple argument many Chinese people are making is if you take the same infection rate and multiple it across a population of 1.4 billion people, there could be millions of lives lost. But let me provide some value information for you to better understand the reality of the situation. More than 95% of those 8,000 deaths in Hong Kong came from elderly people aged 60 or above.
If we take a look at this data from the Centre of Health Protection, we can clearly see that people under the age of 60 have an extremely small chance of dying from Covid. The only age group that is truly vulnerable is those who are above the age of 80.
In addition, this graph from the Centre of Health Protection shows us the highest death rates occurred in those who are unvaccinated. Now China has administered over 3 billion doses of vaccines to its population but there is one major problem. It’s largest portion of unvaccinated people are those above the age of 60, the exact age group who is more likely to die from Covid. As of April 15th, only 62% of Shanghai people over the age of 60 are fully vaccinated and only 38% are boosted. In my opinion this is a major concern and something the government needs to immediately prioritize.
Ultimately China Will Not Abandon Zero Covid and here are two reasons why…
The first is China’s Zero Covid policy is linked directly to the credibility of China’s government. China’s government was the first in the world to lock down when it shut down Wuhan for 76 days. At the time, this was unprecedented and something we’ve never seen before in the modern era. Within a few months, everything in China was back to normal while Covid raged across the world for two years. China’s Zero Covid policy became popular amongst both Chinese and expats as everyone in China continued to live a normal life. This was a major victory for China’s government and as a result more people trusted the government and the policy of Zero Covid. People could see the tangible results, a normal quality of life.
In America, Covid was uncontrollable but in China the government seemed to have won the battle. Fast forward to April 2022 and western countries have now fully reopened. Life is back to normal and now China is back to where it was two years ago putting hundreds of millions of people under lockdown across the country. China’s government has been building faith in its Zero Covid policy for 2 years and if the government were to abandon this policy now, it would be a major loss of face.
If China’s government tried and new policy and failed. It would cost the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of people. This failure would question the entire legitimacy of the Chinese government. On the flip side, Zero Covid has been successful in the past and is the only policy Chinese people know. In the eyes of many Chinese the only way forward is Zero Covid.
Another important element to consider is the upcoming National Congress scheduled for this November. This event happens every 5 years and is especially important as President Xi Jinping will officially secure his 3rd term as the party leader. Now it’s almost certain that President Xi will be granted a 3rd term, but again if he abandoned Zero Covid and people started dying in large numbers, this would put his own future as President of China at jeopardy. On a recent tour to Hainan Island President Xi made it very clear that China was not going to change policies and the country will remain committed to Zero Covid for the future.
But what will happen to the Chinese economy?
Economists from China’s top universities recently published a report entitled “The Economic Cost of Locking Down Like China”. They estimate the losses caused by lockdown in China are 4 times greater than those in Western countries like Canada or Italy, mainly because of the severe nature of restrictions. The authors calculated if China’s 4 biggest cities, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen were subjected to a full 1-month lockdown, China’s GDP may fall over the period by 8.6%. In the worst-case scenario, when all cities in China are on lockdown, the aggregate real income would fall by 53%. At the time of me writing this article, 45 cities in China are under some form of lockdown accounting for 26 % of the population and 40% of the GDP. That’s affecting approximately 370 million people, but the reality is this number most likely will grow even higher.
Here are my personal thoughts on the situation
This situation has been especially difficult for me as Shanghai is the Chinese city I love the most. It was my home for 7 years, the city I met my wife in and will always hold a special place in my heart. I want to make sure that everyone knows I only want the best for Shanghai and everyone across the country. I know that China’s government will eventually contain the situation in Shanghai, but I have legitimate concerns on many other issues. At this stage I believe the collateral damage of this strict lockdown is vastly outweighing the actual deaths that are caused by Covid.
As more cities go into lockdown, it might come to a point where once again, the entire country of China is forced to lock down. In my opinion, what the residents of Shanghai have endured these past few weeks is too much. China must adapt and prioritize the mental and physical health of all citizens. Yes, Covid is a disease that could potentially kill you, but 96% of cases are asymptomatic and the most vulnerable are elderly unvaccinated citizens.
Don’t forget the statistic I shared earlier, only 62% of Shanghai people above the age of 60 are vaccinated. This leaves approximately 1.5 million unvaccinated elderly in Shanghai. The priority should be to immediately vaccinate this group of people to keep them safe while implementing strict safety measures to allow normal life to proceed in China. Without these modifications the Chinese economy will slow down, local businesses will be forced to close, unemployment will grow, and public sentiment will begin to change. I think China is going to have a very long road ahead and China must learn to truly have a “dynamic covid” policy one that allows for the majority of its citizens to live a normal life.
In closing, I only want the best for everyone in China. It’s a country I’ve spent many years of my life in and have a deep passion for. It’s why I run this YouTube channel and share my insights into the country. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope today’s article encourages more discussion and together we can find the correct solution for our entire world moving forward. If China shuts completely shuts down this will affect every country on the planet. China is the factory of the world and our economies are so interconnected. The entire world needs China to pull through and get past this difficult obstacle.