"Dynamic" Zero COVID: Zero Logic, Total Chaos
Repeat Lockdown Failures Will Eventually Threaten The CCP's Grip On Power
Shanghai’s Zero COVID lockdown earlier this year showed the world the true madness of lockdowns as disease containment strategy.
Shanghai stands as brutal testimony to the utter and complete failure of such draconian measures to halt the spread of COVID-19. Throughout the lockdowns and afterwards, the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to virus.
Unsurprisingly, the reality that the virus is going to continue to virus immediately began stoking fears among the people of Shanghai of a return to lockdown when two new cases prompted fresh restrictions last week for the Shanghai neighborhoods of Minhang and Xuhui.
The city’s government sealed off a clutch of residential compounds in the southwestern districts of Minhang and Xuhui, warning residents that more new cases are likely to surface because the two Covid-19 carriers had been freely roaming the streets before they tested positive.
Life under Zero COVID means even two cases in a city of 25 million people is enough to produce widespread fear and panic.
Officially, It’s “Dynamic Zero COVID”
Officially, China’s lockdown policy is described as “dynamic Zero COVID”, and it portrayed as an evolution of its original strategy of simply locking down everyone.
With Dynamic Zero COVID, only the specific districts where cases are detected are locked down immediately upon detection, acting to immediately disrupt community spread of the virus.
First, the country's government regulates the entry and exit of non-residents to prevent transmission of infections from outside.
Second, if there is an outbreak, there is a localized lockdown followed by free and universal testing. All those infected in the cluster are institutionally treated free of cost. During this localized lockdown, essential needs such as food and healthcare are met through a dedicated and trained team of activists.
Third, the solidarity inherent in such a strategy is conducive to universal masking and universal and free vaccination. As a result, outbreaks are quickly controlled, and the duration of localized lockdowns is relatively short. Most importantly, the number of deaths is either very low or zero.
That’s the theory of “Dynamic Social COVID”.
What’s the reality? Chaos and panic, as even a single case can mean quarantine, isoaltion, and lockdwn for everyone in the immediate vicinity.
Chaos and panic was the result when authorities set about closing an IKEA mall in Shanghai last week, after worker there was identified as having been in contact with a COVID case..
Videos widely shared on social media and verified by AFP showed a small group of PPE-clad personnel trying to keep the main doors of a Shanghai building closed on Friday after a worker there was identified as a close contact of a Covid case.
A large crowd is then seen bursting past the outnumbered staff, running away from the building as onlookers film the scene on their mobile phones.
Video taken by people close by record what actually happened
In addition to making it onto official Chinese news media, the video footage has also gone viral—a reality which is not likely to aid Chinese officials in enforcing future lockdowns.
The Hainan “Holiday From Hell” — More Chaos And Panic
As the experience of a tourist known as “Araf” demonstrates, the Shanghai experience is hardly an outlier. Similarly chaotic scenes have been a common refrain during the snap lockdown of the Chinese resort city of Sanya in Hainan Province—a favorite holiday destination often described as the “Hawaii of China”.
Araf, a British ex-patriate working as a bilingual teacher in Jiangsu province, has shared his lockdown experience of the Hainan lockdown to his YouTube channel, providing a video chronicle of the frustrations experienced by the 80,0000 tourists caught up in the snap lockdown of Sanya. In particular, he notes the “absolute madness” that ensued when guests at his hotel tried to leave—to move to another hotel at the very least—after 11 of the staff tested positive for COVID.
In the videos, he said people were trying to get out of the hotel after 11 positive cases were detected among hotel staff.
"Everyone's rebelling, everyone's protesting to get out of the hotel … just panicking, shouting and screaming," he said.
"The government and police had to come to control the situation and not let guests leave."
Sanya has reported 3,305 symptomatic and 4,006 asymptomatic cases between August 1 and August 14.
That's up from the 689 symptomatic and 282 asymptomatic cases reported between August 1 and August 7. China records symptomatic and asymptomatic cases separately.
August 6, readers will recall, is when the lockdown in Sanya began.
China recorded nearly four times as many cases after the lockdown began than before—hardly the outcome a “Zero COVID” protocol hopes to accomplish.
Readers will also recall that Shanghai’s extreme lockdown was a similarly demonstrable failure.
Such failures have been attendant upon China’s lockdowns from the very first one in Wuhan in 2020.
The lockdown failures nationwide are evident in the rising daily case counts within China since the lockdowns began.
Yet even as COVID cases continue to spread, Chinese officials have already begun throwing in the towel on the Hainan lockdown, with the resumption of some flights to the island beginning on August 15, although strict rules regarding negative COVID status remain in effect for tourists wishing to return to their homes.
Bloomberg reported that tourists would only be allowed to travel back home if there were no reported cases in the hotel they were staying at. They will also be subject to mandatory three-day quarantine upon arrival in mainland cities.
With cases spreading in Sanya faster during the lockdown than before, one has to wonder who will be allowed to board the resuming outbound flights.
It should be noted that the resumption of flights to and from Hainan stands in clear contradiction of the principle that the lockdown should contain an outbreak before restrictions can be eased.
But under what Beijing is calling a "dynamic COVID-zero" policy, local governments have imposed shorter lockdowns where people were barred from unnecessary movements for a few days or weeks until clusters were contained.
Based on the data, the Hainan outbreak is anything but contained.
Zero Contact With Reality
The obvious economic impact of the lockdowns is also calling into question China’s future as a target for foreign investment and foreign capital—an essential ingredient for continued economic growth in any country. Yet Chinese officials insist that the Dynamic Zero COVID protocls make China even more attractive to investors.
When asked about foreign companies investing in China and the business climate during the pandemic, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wengbin said on Friday China was optimistic.
"We believe that with measures being put in place to ensure safety against COVID and promote socio-economic development, the Chinese economy's great potential, strong resilience, robust vitality and enormous space will be further amplified," he said.
Yes, he really did say that. Perhaps he forgot that companies are already calling quits on China and leaving the country rather than trying to do business under constant threat of more lunatic lockdowns.
Zero Organizational Logic Means Zero Acceptance
As the scenes at Shanghai’s IKEA Mall and the hotels in Sanya demonstrate, Chinese officials scramble to impose the snap lockdowns that are the foundation of “Dynamic Zero COVID”, frequently with little or no prior organization or preparedness—at least, none that appears evident in the available video footage from these events.
Such lack of organization at lockdown start seems a likely contributing factor to the protests and panic which have become the predictable follow-on reaction by people caught up in the lockdown. While the Chinese people might be broadly accepting of the overall authority of Xi Jinping and the CCP, they seem far less accepting of local authority, and thus far more reluctant to quietly accept the imposition of the lockdown protocol. Simply put, the Chinese people are displaying zero trust that local officials know what they are doing in these lockdowns.
This may prove to be the greatest damage done by the lockdowns to the CCP’s hold on power in China. If local authorities do not enjoy the confidence and trust of the people in their districts, their ability to implement CCP policy is severely compromised, and gives rise to pushback and protest which the CCP cannot ignore for long.
Despite rising cases in Hainan, the CCP is allowing flights off the island—a clear relaxation of Zero COVID guidelines—just as Shanghai so far is resisting a broader imposition of restrictions following the IKEA Mall incident. Even in China, the people can only be pushed so far before they push back, and under Zero COVID, the people of China appear to be growing more willing to push back. While it is far too soon to call this push back even the seeds of an existential threat to the CCP, should resistance to Zero COVID continue to accelerate, at some point that existential threat could begin to emerge.
This is the central illogic of the chaotic “Dynamic Zero COVID” evolution of China’s lockdown strategy: poorly organized and implemented snap lockdowns not only are failing to contain the virus, they are visibly failing to do so and thus are demonstrably eroding trust in the local officials who implement them. China is expending a great deal of precious political capital—and compliance in an authoritarian regime is the most important political capital of all—and getting zero return for it. The CCP’s authority and stature are not being increased by these lockdowns.
While there is no timeline for rebellion in any regime, the historical reality has always been that once rebellion reaches a certain critical mass regime change becomes inevitable. Even just the modern history of the “Arab Spring” uprisings shows, rebellions tend to happen slowly, and then quite rapidly. The sober reality of all authoritarian regimes is that they always are in full control of a country—right up until the inevitable moment when they aren’t.
The zero logic and total chaos of China’s Dynamic Zero COVID lockdowns are surely bringing the CCP that much closer to that inevitable moment, after which their downfall will be assured.
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