At the end of 2021, when the world was experiencing the third wave of Covid-19, the Chinese leadership decided to exploit the international crisis to push their political message. The Chinese ecosystem was quick to claim that the CCP’s zero Covid policy (or dynamic clearing) would be effective against any variant of coronavirus.
So deeply entrenched was this belief that Chinese propaganda houses across the world started showcasing the effectiveness of China’s Covid containment as an example of why “Chinese style democracy” was better than its “western” counterpart.
The situation has, however, turned on its head over the last couple of weeks. Since the middle of March 2022, multiple cities across China including Shanghai, Tianjin, and Qingdao, are seeing a spike in cases leading to implementation of strict lockdowns.
Even Hong Kong, which is the newest province, has seen an unprecedented increase in Covid cases which has had a marked impact on social and economic activity.
The spread of Omicron 2.0 cases, despite the intense Covid policies of the CCP, is an interesting study for contemporary times. While epidemiologists and social scientists will undoubtedly cover these aspects in future, two aspects stand out even for the casual observer.
Firstly, the CCP gives more importance to its narrative of success, than the socio-economic welfare of the people. Secondly, the CCP’s inability to adapt to changing situation on ground – even when there is ample evidence that the present approach may not be working.
The first point is made amply evident by how Chinese government have reacted to any spike in cases.
In January 2022, new cases were blamed on “Canadian mail” or “foreign sources” and local authorities were directed to curb the spread veritably overnight — which they miraculously accomplished!.
Thereafter, through February, foreign sportspersons attending the Winter Olympics were harassed and kept siloed, even at the expense of their ability to compete.
Finally, soon after this “magnum opus of CCP greatness” was complete, sweeping lockdowns and quarantines were implemented.
Through this period, reports on the effectiveness of CCP policies were published, using the pandemic-related suffering of western countries as a counterpoint.
The recent spike in official Covid cases is clear evidence that the absolute effectiveness of the dynamic clearing policy of the CCP was a myth.
There was most likely a steady increase in infected numbers, which were either “unreported” by local authorities wary of upsetting the CCP applecart or “testing protocols” were quietly changed to keep bad news at bay.
Consequently, three months after it ridiculed the political systems in other parts of the world, Beijing finds itself confronting a wave of cases, larger than any in the last two years.
The CCP has responded by doubling down on dynamic clearing. Entire cities will be kept locked down over the coming weeks, with limited time allowed to source essentials.
Videos of panic buying in Shanghai, and empty stores across the city, have already gone viral across social media platforms proving that the Chinese people have limited faith in the effectiveness of the government’s approach. Individuals are terrified of how they would be treated if they do contract the virus the best case being the “institutional quarantine and containment facilities” which bear stark resemblance to oversized metal coffins. Economic activity has already slowed noticeably, and one cannot be sure if the worst is yet to come.
Interestingly, over the same period of three months, other countries which experienced a surge in Covid cases, were able to overcome the worst without any lockdowns or widespread economic downturn.
This was done by recalibrating protocols for vaccinated individuals, widespread application of booster shots, protecting the more vulnerable sections of society and ensuring a high level of Covid-appropriate behaviour in public spaces.
These measures resulted in far lower mortality rates than is being experienced in some places across China today.
It remains a mystery as to why the CCP does not recalibrate its strategy, and it may take some time for the dust to settle on this issue.
What the exponential spread of Omicron 2.0 does reveal about Beijing is that policy making is suffering from myopic vision.
Those in power cannot see the harm in their inability to adapt to changing circumstances on ground. Moreover, the silence of those in proximity to power may be a greater cause for concern, as the chance for any course correction gets slimmer. Though one truly hopes that China can quickly overcome this wave of Omicron 2.0, it would seem a huge challenge in face of these issues in China’s governance.
(Sumit Kumar Singh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)