The disastrous implications of lifting Zero-COVID in China

In the past week, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government has initiated a dangerous shift in policy away from the Zero-COVID elimination strategy which has been in place across China since the beginning of the pandemic.

The clearest evidence for this change is last Friday’s issuance of 20 measures by the National Health Commission (NHC) which curtail every aspect of the Zero-COVID policy, under conditions in which daily new cases have risen over tenfold since late October. According to Our World In DataChina’s seven-day average of daily new cases now stands at 15,897 and is on pace to reach an all-time high in the next week.

[Photo by Our World In Data / CC BY 4.0]

The 20 measures include a reduction of mass testing protocols, restrictions on the ability of localities to issue lockdowns, a shortening of quarantine times for close contacts of people infected with COVID-19, a loosening of travel restrictions to and within China, the ending of contact tracing for secondary contacts, and more.

Despite a weeks-long surge of cases in Guangzhou, officials there have refrained from implementing a citywide lockdown, and growing waves in other large cities throughout the country have not prompted lockdowns for the first time since the initial lockdown of Wuhan began on January 23, 2020

Also included in the 20 measures were pledges to accelerate vaccination programs, build health care infrastructure and stockpile medicines, clearly in anticipation of a nationwide surge of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. On Thursday, leading NHC official Guo Yanhong announced that the country will build more hospitals that specialize in treating moderate and severe COVID patients, while ensuring that intensive care units comprise 10 percent of all hospital beds.

The 20 measures were announced one day after Chinese President Xi Jinping held a meeting on the pandemic with his new Politburo Standing Committee, the first since the conclusion of the CCP’s 20th Congress on October 23.

At that Congress, Xi presented the fallacy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” distorting the reality that the restoration of capitalism has produced a vast growth in social inequality and class tensions within China. In early 2020, fearing social revolution amid a spiraling public health crisis, the CCP first implemented Zero-COVID in order to prevent the collapse of the country’s health care system and maintain national stability.

Despite the immense significance of China’s Zero-COVID policy, which for over two years has saved millions of lives and proven that elimination is possible, the nationalist basis of this policy has always rendered it unviable in the long term. Just as “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is a nationalist delusion, maintaining Zero-COVID in a single country is impossible. By lifting this policy, Chinese society now directly confronts “COVID with imperialist characteristics.”

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