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Zero COVID Means Lockdown Forever
Xi Jinping Can No Longer Afford To End His Insane Policy
Zero COVID brought exactly zero surprises when Chengdu’s lockdown of 21 million people was extended “indefinitely” late Wednesday evening.
Late on Wednesday night, authorities announced that lockdown measures would be extended yet again in most districts, covering 16 million people. Mass testing will continue daily, and the city aims to eliminate community infections within a week.
Authorities did not reveal when the lockdown will end, saying only that the restrictions would be “dynamically adjusted based on the development of the epidemic and the need of (Covid) prevention and control.”
This was the second extension, after the lockdown had already been extended once after its initial scheduled end on Sunday.
Chengdu has become but the latest reminder that Zero COVID means lockdown forever. Zero COVID has left Xi Jinping with zero alternatives but to continue this lunacy.
Lockdown In Spite Of Earthquake Disaster
In an authoritarian reflex reminiscient of Shanghai’s spring lockdown from Hell, the people of Chengdu and other cities in western China were obliged to remain under lockdown despite a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the region.
The 6.8 magnitude quake that struct just after noon Monday in Sichuan province caused extensive damage to homes in the Ganze Tibetan Autonomous Region and shook buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu, whose 21 million citizens are under a strict COVID-19 lockdown.
Following the quake, police and health workers refused to allow anxious residents of apartment buildings out, adding to anger over the government’s strict “zero-COVID policy” mandating lockdowns, quarantines and other restrictions, even while the rest of the world has largely reopened.
The lockdown is being imposed despite a growing casualty list from the earthquake that has so far claimed 74 lives, with at least 26 people still reported as missing.
This ideological inflexibility is not going over well with the Chinese people, who have begun to protest the lockdowns (again).
Footage circulating online showed residents of the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic is believed to have originated in late 2019, chanting “lift the lockdown, refuse to be tested" at police.
The restrictions have prompted protests online and in person, rare in China's tightly controlled society where the all-powerful Communist Party can easily sentence people to months or years in prison on loosely defined charges such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble."
While the CCP has so far weathered the protests with no sign of political vulnerability, one wonders how long that streak can hold.
Lockdown In Spite Of Declining Cases
To further illustrate the rigidity of the Zero COVID policy, the Chengdu lockdown and other restrictions are being imposed and even escalated despite the reality that COVID cases are trending down in China, and have been for some weeks.
To the extent there ever was a true “COVID crisis” during this period, the data suggests quite strongly the crisis has passed yet again and is once more in China’s rearview mirrror. That China is continuing to double down on the lockdowns merely underscores the reality that these lockdowns have little to no impact on COVID cases, but do give the CCP the means to tighten their grip on the Chinese people.
Lockdowns In Spite Of Ongoing Economic Damage
The lockdowns are set to deliver yet another blow to China’s travel and tourism industries, as the National Health Commission is issuing new measures which include requiring citizens to minimize their travel during the upcoming mid-Autumn Festival, ordinarily a prime travel and tourist season in China.
The National Health Commission on Thursday announced a raft of measures that will be in place until the end of next month to fight a virus that shows little sign of slowing. Authorities told citizens to minimize travel during the mid-Autumn festival next week and National Day holidays in October, ordinarily key periods for domestic tourism, and asked local governments to test all residents regularly for Covid regardless of infection levels.
Lockdowns and other mitigation measures have intensified, including in Chengdu, the country’s sixth-largest city with 21 million people, and parts of Guiyang, home to China’s biggest residential compound where some 400,000 people live in 300 buildings. Meanwhile, Beijing is tightening travel restrictions for anyone entering or leaving the capital.
With the focus on stamping out this latest COVID outbreak before the 20th party Congress in mid-October, the CCP is determined not to have a COVID cloud over Xi Jinping’s anticipated
coronation election to an unprecedented third term in office.
All other considerations, including humanitarian and economic ones, are secondary, resulting in analysis reducing yet again their projections for China’s economic performance this year.
The enforcement measures, some of which reverse previous guidance, highlight yet again the government’s commitment to stamp out the virus even as the economic and social costs climb. Economists who were already turning bearish on China’s economy are now trimming growth forecasts further. Nomura Holdings Inc. expects China’s Covid Zero policy to be maintained until at least 2023.
Some Chinese firms are attempting to adapt to the lockdown situation by reverting to the “closed loop” strategies employed during the spring lockdowns. Guizhou Cloud Big Data, which manages Apple’s iCloud data center for all of China, has kept employees confined to the facility for over a week.
Apple’s partner in Guiyang, which operates the server center that houses all online data generated and stored by hundreds of millions of Chinese iPhone users, described what amounted to a “closed loop” system under which employees are barred from leaving the premises. Many haven’t seen their families for a week, Guizhou Cloud Big Data, Apple’s government-backed partner, said in a WeChat notice.
The confinement is an effort to keep the data center operating despite the lockdowns which are affecting nearly all of Guiyang’s 6 million inhabitants, including China’s largest residential compound, Huaguoyuan, home to over 400,000 people.
Ominously, the Guiyang lockdown is replicating the worst features of the Shanghai disaster. With cabs and other delivery services closed by the lockdown, residents under lockdown are denied needed deliveries of food and other supplies.
Residents in affected areas were only allowed to leave their homes for Covid tests, and all cab services were suspended, effectively freezing activity across the city. Guiyang officials have apologized for their inexperience in coordinating deliveries, as logistics disruptions all but choked off food supplies.
This week has also seen a return of China’s “lockdown drones”, with several video clips of the drones flying through locked down areas ordering people to remain indoors going viral.
Lessons learned from China’s earlier mass imposition of Zero COVID: zero. All the mistakes from before are being repeated again.
Lockdowns For The Sake Of Xi Jinping And No One Else
For China, the ultimate reality of Zero COVID is that, because Xi Jinping decreed it to be the best approach for dealing with the pandemic, the lockdowns will remain simply because Xi Jinping is never wrong and can never be wrong. Reverting to a “learn to live with the virus” approach would be tantamount to Xi Jinping admitting error.
If Beijing loosened up and allowed COVID to run amok, the Chinese system would appear no better than those of loser democracies, and Xi would seem like another failing politician, a mere mortal, not the virus-fighting superhero he was painted as. Zero COVID’s failure would be a disaster for the Communist Party’s veneer of infallibility.
In China’s authoritarian system, admissions of error are signs of weakness—which is intolerable for those at the top. Xi clings to Zero COVID likely because to let go could cost him the leadership of the country.
That is not a sacrifice Xi seems willing to make.
Perversely, as much as Xi has touted Zero COVID as proof of the superiority of China’s methods of governing over western ideas of popular democracy, the reality is that China’s handling of COVID is as infected with political intrigue and infighting as any policy imposed anywhere, be it Washington or Ottowa or London or Berlin. While the outcome is Xi’s dogged determination to retain Zero COVID and damn the consequences, his motivation is apparently the same base desire for political survival that has pushed politicians in Europe and the US to shift gears (and goalposts) to appease restive electorates.
Certainly, China’s people are growing restive under the Zero COVID restrictions. Video is circulating online showing police breaking up a protest in Wuhan—ground zero for the worldwide COVID pandemic—where local residents are demanding an end to the indefinite lockdown.
While Xi and the CCP have so far been able to quell and suppress most of these protests, that they continue to flare up in a country conditioned by decades of acquiescence to central authority is testament to the level of discontent simmering within Chinese society, discontent which Xi can squash but cannot eliminate.
Some China watchers hope that Xi will gradually relent on the Zero COVID strategy once his third term in office is secure later this fall—although there is an equal possibility that his close association with the policy will make Zero COVID a permanent fixture of Chinese life. What is the likely scenario is that Xi will either moderate or end Zero COVID only if his own perception of his personal political interest shows a benefit to doing so.
Until that happens, Xi will continue to lead China over the Zero COVID cliff.
Lockdowns Mean China Is Closed…Permanently
So long as Zero COVID remains in place, the blunt reality of China is simply this: China is closed for business.
There is no amount of economic stimulus, and no amount of authoritarian cudgeling, that can revive production at a factory which has been shuttered because of COVID.
There is no amount of economic stimulus, and no amount of authoritarian cudgeling, that can move resources and goods from port to factory to port again when whole cities are forbidden even to leave their homes.
There is no amount of economic stimulus, and no amount of authoritarian cudgeling, that will prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from mutating and evolving. Despite Xi Jinping’s extreme Legalist ideas, the virus is still going to virus, in spite of Zero COVID.
Consequently, there is no amount of economic stimulus, and no amount of authoritarian cudgeling, which can stave off China’s ultimate economic collapse and stagnation under the oppressive smothering of society that is Zero COVID.
Zero COVID will prove to be China’s ultimate exit from the world stage.
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