Living with – or without – Covid
On Saturday, it was two years exactly since China put Wuhan in quarantine. On January 23, 2020, rhe whole city was frozen in place, its 11 million people unable to leave, meet each other or do anything other than stay at home.
The world was yet to know the word “lockdown” but in the relative innocence of the period, it seemed that the Chinese were being unnecessarily harsh.
In time, that view would change as other countries themselves executed strict lockdowns. Remember the Spanish version that prohibited more than a short walk unless you had a dog and the rental market for pooches simply exploded!
In the third year of the pandemic, countries are confronting a choice – to lockdown or not? Living with or without Covid.
Some have decided to live with the disease because it’s never going. Britain, for instance, will end all restrictions. Meanwhile, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore seem to have reluctantly moved on from a Zero Covid policy and decided it’s sensible to ditch extreme restrictions. But China still pursues this, a singular moonshot, if there was one, for the age of a mutating coronavirus.
This seems surprising and rather pointless when China’s caseload is 100 to 150 a day. Just 100 to 150, something other countries would kill for, in a manner of speaking.
But the Chinese authorities are pursuing this with verve and zeal. Yuzhou, a city of 1.1 million in Henan province, was recently put into full lockdown after three cases were reported. Xian in western China is in strict lockdown, its 13 million people confined to their homes since December 23.
The Chinese authorities can do this because they haven’t faced a significant public backlash to harsh measures to control the pandemic. You might think that’s because China frowns on dissent, but there is another reason too. Lots of people think it’s a good idea. Al Jazeera quotes Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, to say that China has a “culture that individual liberties can be sacrificed to a large extent for the collective good of individual liberties”.
True. But a Zero Covid policy seems out of step with Belt and Road, China’s sweeping plan to connect with distant parts of the planet. China’s Covid strategy is projected to keep the country closed to business visitors and students for much of 2022. It seems out of step with science and sensibility. Viruses mutate and so is Covid. What isn’t changing is Beijing’s approach.