No End of Costly Zero-Covid Policy Fuels Unrest in China

The rumours of an exit from the costly ‘Zero-Covid’ policy that had sent Chinese stocks soaring last week turned out to be unfounded.The government announced its unwavering commitment to stick with it despite mounting public frustration, fueling unrest and misery across the country.The announcement dealt a heavy blow to hopes for easing restrictions, driven by unverified social media rumours that China was forming a high-level committee to pivot away from zero-Covid. Share prices of Chinese companies listed in mainland China, Hong Kong and the US surged last week as investors eagerly seized on any speculation for a possible relaxation.

The Strategy of China

The pledge to stick with zero-Covid also became a major disappointment to the Chinese public. Many have grown increasingly weary of the incessant mass testing, centralisedquarantine, and stringent lockdowns, sometimes lasting for months. The zero-tolerance approach that aims to eliminate Covid cases as soon as they flare up is costing the lives they are intended to protect. The unrelenting campaign is enforced at a tremendous economic and social cost, as new fast-spreading variants make containing the virus near impossible.

Public frustration and resentment have grown in recent weeks after the conclusion of the Party Congress, which coronated its top leader Xi Jinping’s third term in power with a ringing endorsement of his zero-Covid policy.Experts warned that China could be hit by a new wave of infections and a new cycle of government-enforced lockdowns as winter approaches.

According to official data, China reported 5,496 local infections on Sunday, hitting a six-month high.More than one-third of those infections were reported in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. The city of 19 million people is grappling with its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, with large swathes of its Haizhu district placed under lockdown.

The Situation in China

In the central province of Henan, migrant workers have abandoned a locked-down Foxconn factory enmasse, walking for miles to escape an outbreak at China’s largest iPhone assembling site. And, in the eastern financial hub of Shanghai, things are gloomy even at Disneyland. The park abruptly shut its gates last week to comply with Covid prevention measures, rapping visitors insidefor compulsory testing.

In the northwestern city of Xining, residents pleaded desperately for food as they suffered through the latest of the country’s stringent lockdowns.In the west, in Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet, angry crowds have been protesting in the streets after more than 90 days of stay-home orders.In many other parts of the country, lockdowns, mandatory quarantines, daily mass testing edicts and travel restrictions continue to cripple businesses and everyday life, even as the rest of the world moves on from the pandemic.

Even in places not under extended lockdowns, the constant Covid testing edicts and stringent travel restrictions have fueled growing discontent.In Beijing, authorities have kept requirements tight for entering the Chinese capitalhome to most senior Chinese leaders. The restrictions were further tightened in the lead-up to the Communist Party Congress in October, and they haven’t been relaxed since.

The repeating cycle of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing is taking a heavy toll on the economy and society. Public patience is wearing thin, and frustrations are building.