An undebatable political decision’: Why China refuses to end its harsh lockdowns
Exactly a year ago the world’s media was falling over itself to cover the ravaging of India by the second Covid wave. Even as many of us lost loved ones in Apr-June 2021, we could not but help feel disappointed by how the global media sought to portray India as a singularly messed up democracy. A year on even as the Chinese authorities display colossal incompetence in their management of the pandemic, there aren’t any pictures from China of body bags and grieving relatives. In a way that is a measure of how far China has come – even when the Chinese Government screw up, the world’s media is apprehensive about calling it out. As this article in the leading publication for the sciences says:
“A haunting video that went viral last week showed residents of Shanghai screaming from high-rise windows into the night—a collective complaint about the harsh COVID-19 lockdown the city’s 26 million inhabitants have been under since the end of March. Many have had trouble obtaining food, essential medicines, and daily necessities. Tens of thousands who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in China’s worst surge since the start of the pandemic are isolated in crowded halls and convention centers outfitted with cots in cubicles, without showers. Authorities have separated infected children from their parents. Media have reported deaths among non–COVID-19 patients denied health care…..
But the costs are growing, and even if they outweigh the benefits, Chinese politicians may see no way to pivot, observers say. The COVID-19 response has become “not so much a public health or public policy issue as a political issue,” says Yanzhong Huang, a global health specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank. Minimizing cases trumps consideration of the “rapid, exponential increase in the social and economic costs,” he says. “It has become an undebatable political decision,” adds Xi Chen, a public health scientist at the Yale School of Public Health.
China’s devotion to “zero COVID” reflects a fear of an explosion of serious illness and death if Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2, now largely one called BA.2, escape control. More than 2 years into the pandemic, the country is still not fully prepared; China’s leadership has squandered the grace period it earned with the zero COVID strategy, Huang says. “Until November last year, there was no serious effort to prioritize the vaccination of the elderly,” he says. Nor did the country use the time to improve the health infrastructure in rural areas.”