After two years in which the Chinese “COVID Zero” policy was held up by Xi Jinping’s dictatorship as successful in keeping the COVID-19 virus out of China, the hardship and suffering of extended lockdowns has reached new levels in 2022, with more than 80 cities and around 400 million people in some form of lockdown. Unlike the lockdowns imposed by U.S. governors in early 2020, the Shanghai lockdown and similar lockdowns in Jilin, Shenzhen, with Beijing possibly next in line, are enforced with extreme brutality. Millions have spent weeks confined to their apartment complexes with little or no food, lacking medicine and other necessities.
Many students have spent the month of April locked in their school dormitories, with no menstrual supplies for female students. Residents are banned from going out to buy food, relying on government distribution which often involves rotten or expired food, and never enough. Even worse, if someone tests positive in a building, all residents can be sent to the quarantine centers, which are as bad as prisons but with less food – exemplified by the fact that police are now threatening those who protest with being sent to a quarantine center, because that’s more of a deterrent than prison.
The government food delivery infrastructure has collapsed in many areas of Shanghai. Videos have circulated on the internet of Shanghai residents gathering outside their buildings to protest the food shortages. Residents have come together to organize their own relief measures independently from CCP-controlled area committees which have lost control of the situation.
The government has instituted a brutal but also hugely wasteful and inefficient system to try and quash the spread of the virus. Babies and very young children were separated from their parents and taken to quarantine centers if they tested positive, a policy that caused widespread outrage. Healthcare workers are facing extreme exhaustion, often working 36-48 hour shifts. Ten people share one COVID-testing tube, so if one tube tests positive, all ten can be sent to quarantine.
Given the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, even with the extreme lockdown measures, the authorities have not been able to stop the spread, with outbreaks in many cities seeded by the Shanghai outbreak. This is developing into a crisis for Chinese president Xi Jinping, who boasts about the regime’s performance in controlling the virus, counterposing this to the catastrophic policies in most Western countries.
There is no backing down from the COVID Zero policy for Xi, especially as he seeks to extend his rule for a third term later this year. The low vaccination rate among especially older people in China, with 100 million people over 60 not fully vaccinated, coupled with the less effective Chinese vaccines and refusal to import Western-made vaccines, means that an uncontrolled outbreak would likely have a massive death toll. This scenario is already playing out in Hong Kong, which at one point had one of the worst death rates recorded in the pandemic so far, despite following Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID playbook.
The costs of hard lockdowns and COVID Zero are mounting. Shanghai is a major economic engine that has been essentially reduced to a wartime economy, a situation that is worsened by deteriorating relations between the U.S. and China as the war in Ukraine rages. 2,000 troops were brought into Shanghai, effectively placing the city under martial law, to deal with unrest but also to warn the city’s CCP leaders that Xi Jinping’s word must be obeyed.