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The People's Republic of China Has Become A Zero-Covid Hell
With no vaccines to save them and very little exposure to Omicron, the Chinese have embarked upon an indefinite dystopia of masking, testing, mass surveillance and periodic lockdowns – all for nothing
From the New York Times:
China is facing its largest flare-up of Covid cases in a month, complicating its preparations for an all-important Communist Party meeting where Xi Jinping is expected to expand his authority and claim another term in power. Provincial and local officials have vowed to stop the spread of the coronavirus from “spilling over” to Beijing, the capital, where the meeting will be held.
Daily Covid counts have more than doubled in the past week, to around 1,400 cases on Friday, in the country of 1.4 billion people — a tally that remains tiny by global standards. But Chinese authorities are under immense pressure to ensure that nothing disrupts the party congress, which starts Oct. 16. They have responded by ramping up restrictions that many already deem excessive. They are locking down regions and cities and mandating mass testing and quarantines, disrupting life for millions of people and drawing public complaints.
The authorities are sticking closely to their “zero Covid” policy of eliminating infections, despite the enormous economic and social cost of the strategy. Mr. Xi has made “zero Covid” a political imperative, linking support for the policy to support for the Communist Party, as he looks to hail China’s success in curbing infections as a sign of the superiority of Beijing’s authoritarian system.
China’s pandemic strategy is “almost a political campaign to show loyalty to Xi Jinping himself,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor of politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This makes the local officials even more anxious because they all want to stay in the good graces of Xi Jinping.”
Manic mass testing has likely “contributed to spreading the virus,” as medical personnel themselves become vectors for infection. Xinjiang is now effectively cut off from the rest of the country, with residents of the city of Yining taking to social media “to plead for food and other provisions, including sanitary pads and medicine.” The Zero Covidians of the West have always complained that “real lockdowns have never been tried”, and we should be thankful for that. In real lockdowns you starve.
At a meeting chaired by Sun Shaocheng, the top party official of Inner Mongolia, officials were instructed to stop infections by “killing chickens with a knife for slaughtering cows,” a play on a Chinese idiom, to indicate that overkill was desired. …
Overkill is increasingly the norm. In the tropical island province of Hainan, often dubbed the Hawaii of China, the authorities ordered mass testing after just two cases were detected on Monday …
Officials have struggled to fund and staff the efforts to stop the virus. In many poorer areas, local government finances have become strained, particularly as they have sought to enforce mass testing, often on millions of people every few days.
The Chinese should get in touch with techbro Tomas Pueyo about how to do the Hammer and the Dance. He’s just the man to show Xi Jinping how “strong coronavirus measures … should only last a few weeks” and how “it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way.” The CCP will surely fly him in any day now.
Jokes aside: As late as last year, my theory was that China had exported lockdowns to the West while quietly redefining testing criteria and taking other steps to make the pandemic disappear domestically. It turns out that I was totally wrong. The Chinese remained deeply committed to Zero Covid the whole time, while benefiting from the strangely mild behaviour of SARS-2 in East Asia. As the virus has drifted genetically from the wild type and in response to growing immunity across the world, it’s only become more virulent in China. The Chinese have responded not by ignoring infections, but by cracking down ever harder.
There’s obviously shades of the old mid-century Communist regimes here. You have the General Secretary and other high party officials setting lunatic policy goals, which are then eagerly implemented by corrupt and sycophantic bureaucrats, who hope only to curry favour within the Party and secure promotion. But the infamous Five Year Plans at least had the ostensible economic purpose of industrialisation. Zero Covid is wholly pointless, and there’s no way for China ever to end this except by admitting defeat.
I often wonder if there isn’t something addictive about lockdowns, at least to the bureaucrats who get hold of these policies and implement them. Or perhaps it’s a disease of administration, subject to the same three-step progression everywhere. There is, first, the initial act of mass containment, followed by a seasonally-driven collapse in infections and the illusion of victory. The second step is the winter, when infections spike again despite all the masks and the tests. In response, the pandemicists intensify the old restrictions, now far less effective and far more costly than anybody had imagined. The third and final step is then a gradual abandonment of containment as counter-productive and futile. The only thing that’s different in China is that two years, rather than six months, intervened before their the first and the second stages of their disease. They’re like a nightmare version of what we were in Fall 2020.
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