Beijing struggles to maintain its zero COVID model amid new variants and people’s frustration


China’s capital Beijing, which is in semi-lockdown, has reported a record number of Covid cases during its current outbreak, reigniting concerns that a Shanghai-style lockdown is staring it in the eye as authorities seek doggedly eradicating the community spread of COVID-19 since the beginning of this month to ensure an elusive “zero-COVID” goal.

The city reported 99 cases on Sunday, down from 61 on Saturday. Although the total is still small, the spike is one of the largest since the start of the outbreak, with the number of cases mostly hovering around 50 a day. The capital has further intensified its COVID-19 restrictions which started on April 22, as the COVID-19 situation remains uncertain due to local transmissions. Malls, restaurants, indoor entertainment facilities and scenic spots remain suspended and work-from-home orders are imposed in many districts, along with daily mass testing, as a palpable sense of unease and fear permeates the city. On Saturday, some 5,000 residents of a residential complex in Beijing were taken to hotel quarantine for 26 new infections, as social media users fear Beijing could see a resumption of the extreme virus control measures used in Shanghai .

The authoritarian application of the “zero-COVID” approach has sparked rare protests in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing by educated classes like office goers, students and the business community who quickly shared videos and social media memes that have gone viral. Last week, hundreds of students gathered to protest Covid rules at the elite Beijing University.

“A Chinese woman in her 30s working for a Chinese state-owned company said on condition of anonymity that young people in Beijing initially supported the ‘Zero-COVID’ policy, but now they don’t support it because it has been too long and seriously affected their daily lives and their work. It’s too much but they cannot disobey the orders of the government,” she added. “I think the government has been too powerful, they don’t ask to people if you accept it or not I feel bad for restaurant owners who are not allowed to open but have to pay various running costs like pay staff, rent etc. and they don’t get any government financial support People cannot go out to eat and hang out with friends.

Young people especially from big cities, the educated lot can’t stand it, but they can’t do anything, ”she lamented. She hopes things will return to normal after the crucial party meeting this fall in which President Xi Jinping considers his third term in office, breaking the precedent. Abandoning the zero-COVID policy at this stage could result in some loss of political capital for Chinese leaders who don’t want to make waves in this politically crucial year, experts say.

The Shanghai lockdown and restrictions in other Chinese cities have battered consumption, industrial production and other sectors of the Chinese economy in recent months, prompting pledges of support from the government, Premier Li Keqiang returning to the front lines to reassure the economic drag of Covid-19 controls will be temporary. As Shanghai showed signs of letting up in movement, residents again vented their mental trauma, with many calling it the most difficult time of their lives, over the past two months of lockdown. The partial restart comes as restrictions tighten in other areas, highlighting the difficulties of resuming life under China’s strict zero-Covid policy. Shanghai authorities announced plans to lift the citywide lockdown and return to more normal life from June 1. Chinese authorities have called the resurgence of COVID in many cities complex, which has forced China to give up its hosting rights for the AFC football tournament in 2023.

According to media reports, Apple plans to increase production outside of China, citing Beijing’s strict anti-Covid policy among other things. India and Vietnam, which are already sites for a small portion of Apple’s global production, are among the countries the company is looking more closely at as alternatives to China. Apple’s heavy reliance on the country is a potential risk due to Beijing’s authoritarian communist government and its clashes with the United States, analysts said.

European and American chambers of commerce have already lowered their investment plans and expectations for the Chinese economy in the coming year due to the severe lockdown that is stifling economic activities. Many expats have already left China or changed their plans for a long-term stay due to the uncertainties caused by a rigid Chinese way of handling things.

Amid these social and economic disruptions, the detection of new variants further challenges China’s zero COVID policy. China has reported the first case of the “more contagious” Omicron BA.4 variant of the SARS CoV-2 virus. The BA.4 variant was detected in an imported case on May 4 in Guangzhou, according to the Chinese CDC.

Cases involving the BA.4 subvariant have been reported in at least 20 countries and regions, with a total of more than 1,300 cases. On April 27, China reported the first infection caused by Omicron variant BA.2.12.1, which was also an imported case from Kenya. Several studies have shown that BA.2.12.1 spreads about 23-27% faster than BA.2.


Comments are closed.