RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – China’s zero-covid strategy is reaching its limits because of the Omikron variant. The authorities’ response: a brutal lockdown. Images from the Shanghai metropolis show increasingly dramatic consequences.
“Please restrain your soul’s need for freedom. Do not open the window, do not sing. Your behavior risks transmitting viruses.” This announcement can be heard on a video believed to have been recorded in Shanghai, China. A drone flies through a residential neighborhood, warning residents.
Other videos show a robot dog running through the streets of the metropolis of millions. Strapped to its back is a megaphone. The automated voice points out hygiene measures and the lockdown currently in effect.
(Residents are locked in their apartments yelling things to each other through the window and asking for help).
These are scenes reminiscent of a science fiction film. And yet: in Shanghai, they are reality. For weeks, China’s most populous city has been battling rising Corona infection figures. On Monday, the record was broken for the tenth day in a row: Authorities reported 26,087 cases.
DISTURBING FOOTAGE FROM SHANGHAI
Footage from Shanghai looks increasingly disturbing: dogs and cats are being beaten to death – allegedly because they come from households where residents were infected. People are forcibly taken to quarantine shelters. Children are taken away in protective suits without their parents.
Residents who publicly oppose the lockdown are held at bay with devices that resemble grappling tongs.
People fight over food. From balconies, residents shout for help, fearing starvation – as supermarkets are partially closed, and many delivery services are overloaded. Members of neighborhood committees are filmed welding shut front doors – apparently to prevent people from leaving their homes.
Despite strict censorship in China, footage continues to leak out showing the painful conditions on the ground.
(Locked in residents send each other something to eat with drones)
SHANGHAI HAS BEEN UNDER LOCKDOWN FOR TWO WEEKS
It seems the Chinese government has lost control of the Corona chaos. Numbers remain low compared to major American or European cities, but in China, it’s the largest outbreak since Wuhan in 2019, from where the pandemic took hold. Ninety percent of the country’s infections come from Shanghai.
At the same time, the People’s Republic is among the last countries in the world to adhere to a zero-covid strategy: Strict lockdowns and mass testing are intended to prevent any infections. Accordingly, Shanghai has been entirely or partially sealed off for two weeks. Some 25 million people have been ordered to stay at home.
Anyone who becomes infected must go to a state isolation facility. There, the hygienic conditions are said to be catastrophic. “Anyone who is not sick will be there. Being at home is the greatest happiness at the moment,” said a woman from Shanghai. At least the controversial measure of separating infected children from their parents has since been relaxed.
(Residents unite to fight Covid tyranny)
COLLEAGUES TO SHARE SHABBY SHOWER
In the financial center of the economic metropolis, many bankers and stock exchange traders now sleep on camp beds in their offices and live on instant noodles. That’s because the heart of the People’s Republic’s financial industry is said to continue beating despite the harsh anti-covid measures.
While Shanghai’s financial markets are still operating without interruption, for the most part, troubling signs are mounting. Plans for a stock market listing are being put on hold by companies. Trading volumes in the yuan have already fallen past a two-year low.
Employees who have stayed in offices are given such things as air mattresses, pillows and blankets, and rely on sparse washing facilities. “Colleagues have to share a shabby shower room in the building,” complained one foreign banker. Since March 28, an estimated 20,000 financial market professionals and other workers have holed up in their office towers in the Lujiazui district.
(A quarantine camp)
BA.2 PUTS ZERO-COVID STRATEGY TO THE TEST
The strict rules are increasingly causing resentment among the population. Those who are brave join small protest groups – and face violence, fines or even imprisonment.
Omicron variant BA.2 is putting China’s Corona policy to the test: “The virus has spread quickly and in a hidden way,” said Vice Party Chief Gu Honghui. Earlier, head of state Xi Jinping had continually defended his strategy.
“Foreign athletes have told us that if there was a gold medal for epidemic control, China would get it,” Xi said at a tribute to participants in this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The Chinese government sees its Covid strategy, and its success in keeping infection levels comparatively low over the past two years, as proof of the communist system’s superiority over Western democracies. Failure is not allowed and would also harm head of state Xi.
(Covid checkpoint. And don’t you dare test positive)
But now there is a lack of natural immunity, as China has experienced few infections. By comparison, the infection rate in Germany is 27.27 percent, while in China it is only 0.03 percent (as of April 11).
The low vaccination rate among the elderly population is also a major problem: Only 46.9 percent of those over 80 have reportedly received two doses of vaccination, the South China Morning Post reported.
Among those over 60, the figure was about 74 percent, it said. In mid-March, Zeng Yixin of the National Health Administration said the vaccination rate was “still very low.” Only 20 percent of those over 80 had received a booster, he said.
(Resistance is forming in certain places)
The risks of low vaccination rates among the elderly population could be seen most recently in Hong Kong: In March, the highest death rate among Corona patients in relation to the population was recorded there: more than 25 per 100,000 inhabitants. Ninety percent of the cases involved elderly people without sufficient vaccination protection.
The fact that many elderly citizens in China are not vaccinated at all or not sufficiently vaccinated is mainly due to the fact that the country prioritized younger people who travel and go to work rather than senior citizens at the beginning of its vaccination campaign.
As the pandemic progressed, the zero-covid strategy also gave elders a “false sense of security,” Yanzhong Huang, an expert on Chinese health care at the think tank Council on Foreign Relations in New York, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. By sealing off regions where infections were detected, infection numbers were comparatively low during the pandemic – so fear of infection also fell.
In the meantime, according to the government, almost 90 percent of the total population has been vaccinated, but the Chinese inactivated vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac are less effective against the omicron variant, according to studies. For this reason, patient advocates in Hong Kong called for older residents to be vaccinated with the German BioNTech vaccine to better protect them.
(You better be very submissive when stopped by the inspectors or you’ll be in for a treat)
SIGNS OF A MINIMAL TURNAROUND
Is the government sticking to its guns despite popular outrage? Municipal health official Wu Qianyu said at a press conference Sunday that the regulations would “not be relaxed in the slightest.”
Now, however, there are signs of a turnaround – at least a minimal one. Starting last Monday, there are to be relaxations in Shanghai: Residents in the districts with the lowest Covid infection rates will gradually be allowed to leave their homes again, authorities announced. However, the details initially remained vague.
According to Gu Honghui, a representative of the authorities, the districts will be divided into three different levels according to their infection figures. “Differentiated prevention and control measures” would thus reflect the “actual circumstances” on the ground, he said. In residential areas where there have been no new cases in the past 14 days, residents would be allowed back out the door, he said.
(Covid inspectors patrol armed to the teeth)
Puzzled residents of the metropolis tried Monday to learn from their neighborhood committees what the announcement means for them in concrete terms. In a district in the south of the city, which would have to fall into the lowest category, they were told that they would now be allowed to leave their homes once a day to go shopping.
According to the state news agency Xinhua, residents of residential areas without new cases of infection are “in principle” now allowed to move freely within their district. However, there are “strict restrictions” on gatherings, he said. In the event of new infections, they could be sealed off again at any time, Gu Honghui said. So it is still too early for the population to breathe a sigh of relief.