Zero Covid disaster in China –

The outbreak of the Covid epidemic in China in 2022 turned into an economic and humanitarian crisis, in which city after city is shutting down. The second largest economy in the world stumbles.

Johannes von Simons, Berlin

Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping refuses to change his uncompromising zero Covid policy. This policy is more about brutal social control and state repression than about science. At the end of May, more than 300 million people in China were living in cities that were totally or partially blocked. Part of the capital, Beijing, is also closed, and hundreds of housing estates and millions of Beijing residents are completely cut off.

Shanghai, with a population of 28 million, was completely closed from late March to June. When the Omicron variant began to spread there, the government concluded that the blockade was “unthinkable.” When things worsened, she announced a two-story blockade – half the city at a time.

Locked in apartments

Xi Jinping says China has the best coronation policy in the world. But this policy is based on a massive police state, widespread censorship and a lack of democratic rights. In May, Xi and the Politburo Standing Committee gave firm instructions that the zero Covid policy must be implemented even more vigorously. Despite the declining infection trend in Shanghai, local authorities initially tightened the blockade: the dictator’s orders take precedence over science and logic.

In confinement, most people have to stay at home and are not allowed to go out, even to buy food. There is a shortage of food, medicine and other basic necessities everywhere. If a person has a positive test result, all residents of the same floor of this apartment building will be taken to the quarantine center; often it even applies to an entire block.

Everyone is afraid of being sent to quarantine centers, where the conditions are dire. Some of these centers are labeled “worse than prisons”; At least the prisoners know when they will be released. This policy is brutal, costly and resource-wasting. “Zero Covid” à la Xi Jinping means that key resources and personnel are redirected from an already overburdened public health system to conduct mass testing and quarantine facilities.

On the other hand, China’s immunization program has not been successful in the most vulnerable group of the population, the elderly. Almost 100 million people over the age of 60 are not fully vaccinated. A zero covid policy of mass blockades exacerbates this problem. Vaccinations for elderly people in Shanghai have dropped by half since the start of the blockade. Rather than vaccinating the elderly and at risk groups, mass testing of millions of people is a priority. The real winners are Chinese test companies. Several major corona test companies saw their profits grow 60–190% year-on-year in April. More than a tenth of the 100 largest billionaires in China come from the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. For them, the pandemic was very profitable.

Loss of job and income

The situation of the employees is very bad. Not going to work means not earning money. Many workers in the service, construction and transport sectors lose their jobs and the dismissed people have to live off their savings. In closed cities such as Shanghai, many migrant workers sleep on the streets, under bridges, or at ATMs because the blockade has left them homeless. A group of 20 construction workers were trapped on a construction site for a week without water, electricity and beds. They used water from a hydrant to cook instant noodles. Some migrant workers who tested positive were driven out of the city because officials wanted to keep infection statistics low. Workers are not allowed to form trade unions in China. Strikes are illegal and in many cases are brutally suppressed.

Xi Jinping’s dictatorship uses a zero Covid policy as an excuse to extend social control and the powers of the police state. Some local governments ordered residents to hand over the keys to their houses and lock them in their homes. When the blockade in Shanghai worsened, police and their helpers went from house to house, spraying disinfectant in every room and taking people to quarantine centers. They broke down the door when necessary. Social media is full of videos of protests and injustices committed by the police.

The coronavirus death toll in China is low compared to the global rate, but there are many additional deaths as people were denied medical care during the lockdowns. Hospitals are at a tipping point when staff become ill or are called to work long shifts at test stations. Shanghai hospital workers protested the inhumane conditions and, in some cases, engaged in strikes. Shanghai No.2 Rehabilitation Hospital complained that they were forced to work despite testing positive for the corona test.

Workers were locked up in their factories to keep production going, in a so-called “closed loop”. This led to clashes and even riots. Tens of thousands of students in Shanghai have been locked up in dormitories for over a month.

Growing Dissatisfaction

Every evening in Shanghai, pots and pans were smashed outside the windows. While social media posts are still quickly deleted, they are becoming increasingly critical of the central government as well, not just local officials as in the past.

The rule of the so-called Communist Party (CCP) is being undermined as Xi Jinping desperately seeks “stability.” Zero Covid policies plunged the economy into recession. This accelerates the separation from the rest of the world economy as foreign firms pull out of China. Even longtime optimists among economic analysts are now pessimists. A leading Chinese capitalist said the economy was “in its worst shape in 30 years.”

Chinese scientists, including some of the country’s top virologists, are also pushing for a policy change. Their views are also ruthlessly censored. Questioning the Zero Covid policy is questioning Xi Jinping’s principles, and that is not allowed. In May, WHO criticized China’s “zero Covid” policy as unsustainable. This WHO statement was completely banned in China.

It is highly unlikely that Xi Jinping will abandon a zero-Covid policy, especially ahead of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party this year. Consequently, Xi wants to consolidate his dictatorship by approving an unprecedented third term. Today, the CCP continues to fuel nationalism, the “alien threat” and the need for national unity as a means of controlling society. Rising tensions herald explosive events in China.

Solidarity against repression in China and Hong Kong is on the side of Chinese workers, youth and oppressed minorities. The pandemic cannot be effectively combated by capitalist governments, be they authoritarian or “democratic”. The Xi regime says that resisting the ‘Covid zero’ line is tantamount to doing nothing or giving up. Effective fighting a pandemic requires strong independent labor organizations and full democratic rights. Vaccination, especially for the elderly, should be stepped up through a massive educational campaign and lifting the import ban on RNA vaccines, which are much more effective against Covid-19 than Chinese.

China’s healthcare system requires massive investments and modernization. It needs strong and independent unions of health workers and democratic control of the working class. If emergency restraints are necessary, they must be democratically approachable and organized by bottom-up democratic commissions. Universal unemployment and health insurance should be introduced as part of creating a decent welfare system for all workers. The discriminatory hukou system (which restricts the rights of migrant workers) must be abolished. Socialist measures to seize the wealth of the capitalists are essential to democratic economic planning. All of this requires an end to the dictatorship. Solidarity against repression in China and Hong Kong sided with Chinese workers, youth and oppressed minorities for a fully democratic, working-class-led society.

Further information: Solidarity against repression in China and Hong Kong,

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