January 30, 2023

China zero-Covid policy: How did it all go so wrong for Xi Jinping?

6 min read

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Indian in China newsletter, a thrice-weekly update that gives you all you need to know about the country’s rise and how it affects the world. Sign up here.

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2022 was declared a year of victory for China and its leader. Xi Jinpingas they began his second decade in power. With a pledge to return the nation to greatness.

Instead, China had its most difficult year under Xi when he left again. Its expensive zero covid policy – For months Overzealous enforcement That crushed the economy and fueled historic public discontent. Abandonment of saliva So sudden that it left a fragile health system scrambling to cope with the explosion of cases.

The chaos and disorder is a stark contrast to the start of the year, when Beijing demonstrated the success of its Covid containment measures by keeping the coronavirus largely under control. Winter Olympics.

Over the course of a year, XI’s hallmark pandemic policy has turned from legitimacy for the ruling Communist Party into a growing crisis that threatens to undermine it.

As one An unprecedented wave of infections – And Deaths – sweeps the country, many have questioned why, after so much sacrifice under Zero Covid and waiting so long to reopen, the government finally unleashed the virus on the population with little advance warning or preparation. Let it spread.

As 2022 approaches, CNN looks back at five key events of the year for China’s zero-covid policy.

The games proved to be one. Great success For China’s Zero Covid Strategy.

Its tightly sealed, carefully organized The Olympic Bubble, paying for ubiquitous face masks, endless spraying of disinfectants and rigorous daily testing. Any infected visitors to the country were quickly identified and had their cases contained, allowing the Winter Olympics to run largely free of charge. Covid Even when the Omicron variant became the rage around the world.

The success added to the party’s narrative that its political system is superior to Western democracies in dealing with the pandemic – a message Xi drove home repeatedly as he prepared for a third term in power.

It also boosted China’s confidence that its well-established zero-covid playbook of lockdowns, quarantines, mass testing and contact tracing could form an effective defense against the highly contagious Omicron and prevent its spread. Is. In the lead-up to the Games, these measures served to contain the country’s first Omicron outbreak in January in Tianjin, a port city near Beijing.

Beijing kept the Winter Olympics largely Covid-free inside a tightly regulated bubble.

But it didn’t take long for Omicron to slip through the cracks of zero-covid. By mid-March, China was fighting its own war. The worst covid outbreak Since the initial wave of the epidemic, thousands of new cases have been reported daily from Jilin province in the north to Guangdong in the south.

The financial center of Shanghai soon became its center. Local officials initially denied that a city-wide lockdown was necessary but then imposed it after the city reported 3,500 daily infections.

gave Two months of lockdown Zero became a stark symbol of the economic and social costs of Covid. In the nation’s wealthiest and most glamorous city, residents faced widespread food shortages, a lack of emergency medical care, spartan temporary isolation facilities and forced disinfection of their homes. The crackdown sparked wave after wave of unrest, severely eroding public confidence in the Shanghai government.

The lockdown also destroyed the economy. China’s GDP Shrinking 2.6 percent In the three months ending in June, while the youth unemployment rate rose. Record high About 20 percent.

But the costly lockdown has not forced China to deviate from its zero-tolerance approach. Rather, officials hailed it as a victory in the war against Covid. Other local governments learned the lesson that they must contain the infection at all costs, before the outbreak spirals out of control.

Covid workers disinfect a residential community under lockdown in Shanghai in April.

Pressure mounted as the party’s all-important national congress approached.

Having tied himself so closely to zero covid, Xi was stuck in one. Traps of your own making. He could not afford to walk away, with the potential spike in infections and deaths posing a huge threat to his authority before he secured his normally shattering third term in Congress.

And so instead of vaccinating the elderly and expanding ICU capacity, officials wasted the next crucial months building larger quarantine facilities, mass testing more often, and imposing broader lockdowns. which at one point affected more than 300 million people.

But even the most drastic measures failed to stop the spread of Omicron. By October, China was once again reporting thousands of daily infections. Amid growing public frustration, the People’s Daily, the party’s main mouthpiece, insisted that zero Covid was “sustainable” and the country’s “best choice”.

At the start of the congress, Xi strongly endorsed his Covid policy, saying he had “given people and their lives the highest priority.” He scored a goal. A major political victorysecuring a third term and stacking the party’s top ranks with staunch allies – including those who had faithfully carried out its Covid policies.

Officials took the hint. Ever more excited In implementing zero-covid, it is hoped that the country can open up after Congress.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has emerged from the 20th Party Congress stronger than ever.

As restrictions tightened, the relentless lockdown brought more suffering and tragedy.

Migrant workers left A Foxconn factory walked for miles to avoid spills at China’s largest iPhone assembly site. Oh A 3-year-old boy died Due to the poisonous gas in the lockdown, he was prevented from being rushed to the hospital. A 4-month-old girl died in a hotel quarantine after a 12-hour delay in getting medical help.

Then, in late November, one Fatal apartment fire In the western city of Urumqi, it finally ignited public anger that had been simmering for months. Many believe that the lockdown measures have hampered rescue efforts, despite official denials.

Demonstrations broke out Across the country, on a scale not seen in decades. On university campuses and in the streets of major cities, crowds gathered to demand an end to continuous Covid tests and lockdowns, which have included some censorship and Demand for greater political freedoms.

In Shanghai, protesters even demanded that Xi Jinping step down – an unthinkable act of political defiance against the country’s most powerful and authoritarian leader in decades.

The nationwide protests presented an unprecedented challenge to Xi Jinping. By this time, OMKron had seemingly spiraled out of control, with the country reporting a record of over 40,000 daily infections, and economic tensions with local governments becoming increasingly severe. Running out of cash To pay the heavy bills of the lockdown.

Demonstrators march through the streets of Beijing on November 28, demanding an end to zero Covid-19.

In an apparent attempt to Appease the protesters.some cities have begun to loosen restrictions.

Then, on December 7, the central government made an announcement Hard recovery approach, reversing lockdowns, testing and allowing residents to isolate at home – effectively abandoning zero Covid.

State media and health officials have since shifted from promoting the dangers of the virus to downplaying its threat.

While relaxation of pressing restrictions a Long awaited relief For many, its suddenness and randomness have caught an unprepared public and left them to fend for themselves.

Over-the-counter cold and fever medicines – which were banned from purchase under zero-covid – quickly sold out at pharmacies and online shopping sites. Long lines have formed outside fever clinics and hospital emergency rooms, with patients, many elderly. Cemeteries are struggling to keep up with the influx of bodies.

Covid patients lie in the lobby of a hospital in the megacity of Chongqing as wards run out of space.

Amid the chaos, the government has stopped reporting most of the country’s Covid infections and has tightened its criteria for counting Covid-19 deaths in such a way that the World Health Organization has warned that “the actual number of deaths The number will be considered very low.”

While the move has taken into account the public’s nervousness, the political undertones are also hard to miss.

For nearly three years, China’s low Covid caseload and death toll compared to countries like the US has been held up as a measure of the party’s merit and legitimacy.

Now, the true scale of the outbreak and deaths could deal a serious blow to the credibility of a government that justified years of painful restrictions on the grounds that they were necessary to save lives.

Some studies have speculated that China’s sudden and underprepared reopening could lead to a re-opening. About a million deaths – Close to the death toll from covid in the US.

As China enters its third — and darkest — pandemic winter, zero Covid is finally dead, but its demise will haunt the country for years to come.

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