Do Not Look The Other Way. Look At China Under Zero COVID
Everything Wrong With Government "Management" Of The Pandemic Is On Display
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know” — William Wilberforce
Look at China. Look at Beijing under lockdown. Do not look away. Look long, look hard, and know the reality of Zero COVID.
Beijing’s implementation of Zero COVID—the creeping incremental lockdown which is supposed to be less draconian than the Dantesque dungeoning of Shanghai—continues to spread, ever two steps behind the virus it hopes to curtail.
With dozens of new cases a day, Beijing is hoping mass testing will find and isolate the virus before it spreads. Twelve of 16 city districts held the second of three rounds of tests this week.
The city of 22 million on Wednesday shut more than 60 subway stations, about 15% of the network, and 158 bus routes, service providers said, most in the Chaoyang district at the epicentre of Beijing's outbreak.
Beijing officials also said closures of schools, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues - as well as some businesses and residential buildings - would extend beyond the April 30- May 4 Labour Day break, without giving a timeframe.
Thus while the city is technically not “locked down”, people within China’s capital city simply can’t go anywhere using public transit, and there is no place for them to go even if they could.
Nor can people leave the city. Beijing is effectively under quarantine.
Residents of Beijing's medium and high-risk areas, as well as those in the lockdown zones and controlled zones, should not leave the city in order to prevent the virus transmission, senior official said on Tuesday.
The announcement came as the number of COVID-19 cases has risen since April 22 to 453 by Tuesday.
The same policy applies to those who live in the communities, towns and villages where one or more confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported, said Tian Wei, an official from Beijing's information office, at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
But Beijing is not “locked down”. These suspensions of the norms of urban living are meant to prevent a lockdown, which entails the suspension of the norms of urban living.
To the wise men atop the CCP, this makes perfect sense.
Yet one policy from the Shanghai experience has been brought to Beijing: mass detention of those who test positive for SARS-CoV-2.
The Xiaotangshan Fangcai hospital, which holds at least 1,200 beds and testing facilities, was first opened during the 2003 Sars epidemic, and used again in early 2020 to treat Covid patients. Its reopening signals a ramp up in efforts by China’s capital to manage the rising number of cases without going into a city-wide lockdown.
However, by the most immediate measure—daily case counts—Beijing’s creeping lockdown is proving to be as much of a disease control failure as Shanghai’s sweeping lockdown.
Beijing reported 53 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total to over 500 cases as the capital continues enforcing strict anti-virus measures and postponed school reopening for a week as a precautionary measure.
Each new measure, each new restriction, by implication is testimony to the inadequacy of the prior measures. The ongoing ramping up of restrictions in Beijing means creeping lockdown is failing just as much as sweeping lockdown.
No Surprise: Zero COVID Has Always Had Zero Success
Readers are by now well familiar with the impact Zero COVID has had on the city of Shanghai, where Pandemic Panic became Pandemic Paranoia.
The ongoing humanitarian disaster in that city of 26 million souls is staggering. For that much casual cruelty to occur in a single city no matter how large is an appalling damnation of China’s government policies on COVID-19.
For some time, Beijing has been ramping up towards that same level of lockdown. The city has not imposed Shanghai’s level of mass incarceration yet, but if the creeping lockdown continues to increase, it is only a matter of time before Beijing is forced into replicating the Shanghai experience.
Not Just Beijing And Shanghai
Nor are the lockdown policies confined to Beijing and Shanghai.
Zhengzhou, the capital of China’s Henan province, has recently enacted lockdown measures, moving schools to an online format and requiring people to work from home.
The coronavirus, notably, had first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and for two years, authorities had managed to keep outbreaks largely under control with lockdowns and travel bans. But the recent surge of the Omicron variant has now tested China's "zero-Covid-19" policy this year. While several other countries are relaxing their pandemic restrictions, the Chinese government has restricted travel, doing mass tests, and is setting up sprawling temporary facilities to try to isolate every infected person.
According to a report, around 21 crore people in 26 cities are currently still under full or partial lockdowns in China. Chinese officials, however, have repeatedly said that heavy-handed Covid-19 curbs, including prolonged lockdowns, are needed to save as many lives as possible and prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
(Note: The crore is an Indian unit of measure. 21 crore is equal to 210 million people)
Yet despite the widespread lockdowns and restrictions, the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread.
Zero COVID Is Costing China GDP
No country, not even China, can effectively place 210 million people under what amounts to “house arrest” without incurring significant economic pain as a direct result—and China is undeniably enduring significant economic pain.
In Shanghai, the lockdown has resulted in the closure of most of the city’s factories, which are only just now beginning to reopen, and confronting the obstacles of restarting production amid snarled and largely broken supply chains.
Numerous factories were shut after Shanghai went into lockdown from March. While some have started reopening, getting workers back and unsnarling supply chains has proven difficult.
In the city's Lingang free trade zone area, 252 firms, or 52% of the total, had resumed work as of May 3, the Xinhua news agency reported. Authorities were subsidising the screening of workers for COVID, and providing rent relief, it said.
Even when factories are able to re-open, getting workers into the factories when they are restricted to their homes by the lockdown is a major headache.
Hundreds of companies including multinationals Tesla (TLSA.O) and 3M (MMM.N) have reopened factories in the Chinese economic hub under local guidelines requiring them to isolate workers inside a "closed-loop".
But executives say they are not yet running at full capacity and describe the process as far from straightforward, given the logistical hassles of compliance, including a lack of space, and having many workers remain stuck at home in locked-down housing compounds.
The Shanghai lockdown is not just shuttering factories, but is also causing a massive traffic jam in the Port of Shanghai—one of the world’s busiest shipping terminals.
In China, ships awaiting berth at the Port of Shanghai now tally 344, a 34% increase over the past month, while shipping something from a warehouse in China to one in the United States currently takes 74 days longer than usual.
By some estimates, nearly half of China’s economy and almost all of its export capacity is being restricted by Zero COVID.
Capital Economics estimates the virus has spread to areas generating 40% of China’s output and 80% of its exports – all facing various degrees of restrictions.
As might be expected, restricting the majority of the country’s economic output is hitting workers hard, particularly the tremendous number of migrant workers who make up a significant portion of the Chinese labor force.
Two groups have been especially hard-hit: migrant workers — the roughly 280 million laborers who travel from rural areas to cities to work in sectors such as manufacturing and construction — and recent college graduates. Nearly 11 million college students, a record, are expected to graduate this year.
China’s campaign against the virus has rippled economically around the world, snarling global supply chains and dampening imports. But employment woes may particularly concern Chinese leaders, who have long derived much of their political authority from their promise of economic prosperity. As lockdowns have hampered people’s ability to pay rent and buy food, many have grown increasingly frustrated with the authorities’ zero-Covid policies. Sometimes, dissatisfaction has erupted into rare public protests.
While the CCP is expanding unemployment benefits and subsidies, most migrant workers historically do not qualify for such benefits, and many are unsure of how to apply for them—effectively cutting them off from such support.
When Mr. Li, the premier, announced the expanded unemployment subsidies, he did not specify how much money would be provided. (Xinhua, the state news agency, said that the government this year has allocated about $9.3 billion in unemployment subsidies.) Nor is it clear how workers will receive the money. Though China has unemployment insurance, many migrant workers are ineligible or do not know how to claim it.
One does not need Shanghai’s disastrous experiment with total lockdown to inflict hunger on the masses. Simply stopping their paychecks is more than sufficient to produce humanitarian crisis in an urban environment.
Even before the lockdowns began, China was facing an employment crisis, with more new labor force participants than there are jobs available.
There were just 0.71 jobs available for every recently graduated job applicant in the first quarter of this year, the lowest figure since data became available in 2019, according to a report by Renmin University in Beijing and Zhaopin, a jobs website.
At every turn, the economic consequence of the lockdowns has been to exacerbate China’s already growing economic turmoil.
Lockdowns Do Not Work. Draconian Government Diktats Do Not Work.
What I wrote in 2020 remains true today. Lockdowns do not work.
Period. End of Sentence. End of Discussion.
This is why it is important to look hard at China, to look honestly and openly, and even dispassionately. It is important to look at the humanitarian suffering, the economic costs, and the societal disruption their psychotic Zero COVID policies have inflicted on the Chinese people.
Shanghai, now Beijing, Zhengzhou, and other Chinese cities, are a brutal object lesson in the limitations of government, and the impotence of government diktat to command any infectious pathogen, let alone a respiratory pathogen such as SARS-CoV-2 capable of spreading via a variety of vectors.
Lockdowns have failed in China, just as they failed in Italy, across Europe, and here in the United States. Lockdowns do not contain community spread of disease, and have never contained community spread of disease. The data just on the COVID-19 pandemic proves that absolutely.
Similarly, mandated inoculations and vaccinations have proven ineffective at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
In China, and around the world, government diktat has been an unmitigated disaster for containing COVID-19. It has failed everywhere.
We must look at China. We must not look away. For the sake of humanity it is too important for us not to know.