Why did China suddenly end its zero Covid policy

For nearly three years, Chinese diplomats stationed abroad maintained that, in their country, the Covid-19 epidemic was perfectly contained thanks to strictly organized health vigils under the name “zero Covid policy”. This proud affirmation has now lost all purpose.

China’s leaders suddenly decided, on December 7, to remove the health restrictions and various anti-Covid controls that had marked the lives of the population. There is no real explanation in Beijing for this reversal, which is all the more surprising considering that Covid-19 cases currently appear to be increasing in China, especially in the form of the Omicron sub-variant, BF.7.

On December 26, the national health commission, which is dependent on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), clarified in a press release that from now on, the official term to designate Covid-19 will no longer be “new coronavirus pneumonia” but “new coronavirus infection.” Which turns out to mean that in China, the severity of the pandemic is considered to have diminished.

As a result, health problems disappear. The same press release indicated that people infected with the virus will no longer have to be quarantined and no further attempts will be made to identify their contacts. On the other hand, there will no longer be, every month, as has been the case for three years, renewal of areas designated as high risk in terms of Covid-19. Finally, stated that “Disease control measures targeting incoming travelers and imported goods will be lifted”.

End of constraint, response to Chinese annoyance?

All of this was accompanied, on December 31, by a speech in which President Xi Jinping stated that in China, that is “fight against Covid-19 [était] entering a new chapter that still requires continuous work. If each of us perseveres in the effort, hope is in front of us. Let’s redouble our efforts, because persistence and solidarity will lead us to victory.”

This new behavior suddenly adopted in Beijing may be primarily a response to the aggravation caused by the strict discipline imposed by the “zero Covid policy”. In late November and early December, demonstrations allowed citizens to express real frustration across China. In Shanghai, Beijing or Canton, but also in Wuhan, Xi’an, Chengdu and even in Lhasa, Tibet, residents are lining up to demand an end to the systematic and public checks.

The police watched this procession of demonstrators without actually intervening. Even when they launch slogans against Xi Jinping, the number one person of the Communist Party, whom they regard as the origin of all control practiced in China.

The CCP has always been very concerned about it “mass movement”, according to official terminology. The complete secrecy of the deliberations at the top of the party makes it impossible to know whether, in early December, there was a confrontation in Beijing between those who want to maintain maximum health controls and those who, on the contrary, want to abolish them. But if there is a debate, the latter wins.

Very tense situation

Other considerations could explain this decision to end population health surveillance. The heads of China’s big companies can’t help but worry about the draconian controls that persist on population and that end up costing the country’s economy the equivalent of 384 billion dollars (360 billion euros).

Above all, it seems that for almost three months, prior to the lifting of the zero Covid policy, China experienced a hard-to-control increase in contamination. On 24 December, 4,128 new cases of Covid-19 were officially recorded, but many elements suggest that this figure is grossly underestimated.

According to the Nikkei Asia newspaper,
“More than 5,000 people may die from Covid-19
every day in China.

A Hong Kong website, HK01, claims in particular to have access to the minutes of the national health commission’s meeting, where it says that 18% of China’s population – or 248 million people – will be infected.uh and December 20, 2022. The Nikkei Asia newspaper predicts just that “more than 5,000 people may die from Covid-19 every day in China”.

On December 23, a health official in Qingdao (Shandong province) for his part stated in a city bulletin that every day, at this major port on the China Sea, “between 490,000 and 530,000” new cases of Covid. The next day, the article was amended and these numbers were deleted. But Chinese newspapers have carried the information when officially, only 31 new cases were recorded across the province. A few days later, in Zhejiang, in a similar manner, it was revealed that the milestone of one million new cases each day had now been crossed.

In several other cities, advertisements in local newspapers show a very tense situation. In Hangzhou (Zhejiang province), the city hall asked so “volunteer to assist the city’s ambulance center, according to the growing demand”.

In Canton (Guangdong province), the mortuary agency informed them that they could not conduct funerals for two weeks “because too much pressure”: Clearly, Chinese funeral homes can no longer handle the influx of dead. Meanwhile, for sick people, many regions reported that pharmacies lacked fever and pain medicines, as well as antigen test kits..

More numbers, more worries?

Seeing such a situation, the Chinese government and medical experts seem to have come to the conclusion that it is no longer possible to try to control and reduce the exponential number of Covid-19 cases (37 million) of contamination per day. to the currently stated figure). And huge numbers of patients are crammed into overwhelmed hospitals.

The National Health Commission also announced, on December 25, that it was “will no longer issue daily pandemic information bulletins”adding that from now on only “relevant information for reference and use for research”. This is in stark contrast to calls from international organizations, which asked China for detailed information on the ramifications of the Omicron BF.7 sub-variant.

China’s official statement a few months ago was clearly a far cry. In September, in New York, before the UN General Assembly, Beijing continued to present its handling of Covid-19 as “the ultimate test of the governance capacity of countries”, where China has a head start in the rest of the world.

Travel, trip

It is possible that at present, the goal is to achieve, through contamination, a level of collective immunity comparable to that of certain Western countries. But, a priori, there are major differences between China and the West: on the one hand, Chinese vaccines appear to have limited effectiveness; on the other hand, only 40% of the country’s population is vaccinated. And in this percentage, the active population is prioritized, while the elderly are clearly a minority.

The announcement of the easing of health measures against Covid-19 however immediately sparked a reaction in China. Part of society wonders – without saying it too openly – if the government doesn’t try to get rid of the elderly, who are a burden on China’s slowing economy. But most importantly, many are planning to take advantage of the return to travel possibilities.

Since the mandatory quarantine for those entering the country will be lifted on January 8, many Chinese are currently booking air travel to the West. For three years, rotations between Roissy and China were limited to ten per week; there should be many more soon. Conversely, when on a flight that lands in China, a passenger is detected positive for Covid, the airline carrying him is prohibited from returning to the country for various periods of time. What will happen now in such a case is, for now, undetermined.

On the other hand, a widely considered risk in Western capitals is that these travelers from China carry the disease or its new variant. Director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, considers this concern there “understandable” given the lack of information provided by Beijing.

Mandatory testing and subvariance monitoring

On December 26, at Milan airport, tests showed that nearly half of passengers arriving from China were infected with SARS-CoV-2. Italy is the first European country to decide that travelers from China will be subject to mandatory health checks. The United States, Canada, Australia also announced in the following days that travelers should be tested less than forty-eight hours before their departure. The same decision was taken by Japan and South Korea. Morocco has gone a step further, closing its borders to anyone coming from China, “regardless of nationality”.

Tuesday, January 3, Mao Ning, one of them
spokesperson for the Chinese ministry
Overseas, he said
that China can take

For its part, the EU is facing some difficulties in determining a common position. On December 30, Germany decided to be content with setting up a “Supervision System” a new variant that could come from China. And during the meeting in Brussels, Austria’s Minister of Health was very hostile to setting excessive barriers to the return of Chinese tourists.

On the other hand, after Italy, then Spain, France decided 1uh January to conduct random tests on flight passengers – direct or with a stopover – arriving from China. If anything is contaminated, they will be contaminated “isolated”. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has come up with such a measure “unjustifiable” because, unlike the Chinese, the Europeans are sufficiently immunized and vaccinated.

China denounces “unacceptable practice”

All very different reactions to the fact that the BF.7 sub-variant could spread outside of China, Beijing reacted. On Tuesday January 3, Mao Ning, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the country could take “prevention”. According to him, decisions taken by several countries have not “no scientific basis and some practices are unacceptable”. This statement prompted Élisabeth Borne, Prime Minister of France, to answer that her government is “in his role in protecting France”.

With the brutal dismantling of control, Chinese authorities have caused great misunderstanding in the world, exacerbated by China’s image which has deteriorated due to the political regime that has sealed off the country tightly, while taking over the entire region. global economy. This sparked an obvious distrust of his health policies and the radical changes he had recently made.

The real collaboration of the Beijing authorities with the West in the medical and health fields, as well as the behavior to adopt in the face of Covid-19 is clearly needed. But the Chinese regime seems unprepared to go in this direction.

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