China’s Zero Covid Controversy

China’s Zero Covid Controversy

Greetings from Shunyi for Tuesday 17th May. We’ve had a few messages re our Covid status. To clarify: despite what you may have read in mainstream media, no, Beijing is not locked down. We are not welded into our apartment or herded into concentration camps. Some complexes in Beijing where Covid has been found are closed off. Shunyi is one of the many districts currently totally free – no virus, no restrictions.

Today we are going to wander slightly away from our cut and dried China Business, Marketing, Tech and Social news pieces to look briefly at the way China responds to Covid. There has been much said in the media, a large part of it either hearsay or creative copy to fill a dead news day.

Chinese are human beings, which means they are extremely complex organisms. They are also Asian with a strong Buddhist influence. So on some topics and matters they see a different perspective or hold a different view to western thinking. On some points they are pragmatic, almost clinical, at other times strongly social and deep thinking. Our point is, and what western media so often fails miserably to understand is: it doesn’t make them wrong. Nor does it make the other view right.

However, this, and the language barrier can make it confusing for brands to do business in China. At least initially while they adjust and learn. Hopefully this post may help international firms gain a better understanding of the way their partners think. Especially around Covid. But remember, at the end of the day, although it is a 2 way street and Chinese tend to aim for a win / win outcome, it is you who will have to adjust. Don’t expect them to change dramatically.

So, a quick take on a topic that has created wide interest, from the head of WHO to debate and discussion within China. It ends up as a debate around two camps: Living with Covid v/s Zero Covid policy. Today we will present a very quick outline of the situation as we see it.

Most of the west today has moved to a living with Covid policy and an acceptance of the risks inherent with that decision. NZ, for example, population 5 million (approx) is living with Covid after almost 20 months of trying zero approach. Yesterday, Monday, 16th May they reported 7k cases and 5 deaths. just for that one day. This is par for their daily result over the last 5 or 6 weeks. They are expecting as winter and the flu season approaches the situation will deteriorate.

China has – for now at least – elected to continue following its zero Covid policy. Shanghai, population 26 million, recently experienced one of China’s biggest outbreaks and possibly the most poorly managed. The worse case scenario we can find was Sunday April 24th when the city reported 2.5k cases and 51 deaths. The highest in a single day, taking the toll to 138.

Here in Beijing, as of Sunday, May 15, Beijing, population 20+ million recorded 33 cases and zero deaths. As best we can establish, Beijing has not reported any deaths during the last 5 weeks of the latest Omicron outbreak with a daily average from 30 to 80 cases, over that time frame.

Looking at NZ’s open policy, and what appeared to be Shanghai’s initial decision to try to live with the virus against Beijing’s tougher zero policy of containment, quicker firmer action it does appear, (statistically at least, whilst inconvenient and hurting business) to be paying off in the terms of saving human lives. At this point in time at least.

That seems compelling enough evidence to support the inconvenience etc  but when viewed in conjunction with a recent report that a National Omicron outbreak could kill over 1.5 million in China,  the case for it tends to become even stronger.

The USA has since the discovery of Covid back in 2019 struggled without much success to formulate any meaningful, concrete or workable policy to safeguard its citizens. It wobbled between legislation and restriction to living with and accepting the virus. Consequently the US became one of the worse countries for infections and deaths, partially through a weak and ineffective administration and partly through a poorly thought through policy and an uninformed and uneducated public. The latter created room for doubt, incubation of conspiracy theories and political rhetoric, leaving the door wide open for subversive radicals and militants to exploit.

From the get-go, it became a political weapon. A way of point scoring, finger pointing, mis-information and blame shifting rather than a cohesive plan to combat the spread. This led to partisan politicising of the disease where politics became more important than people’s health care and safety. It also became clear that in the US, individual human rights were more important than those of any group. A failure for society to engage and unite for a common cause.

This contrasts sharply with, again NZ, where all political parties put aside their differences and projected – more or less – one voice, one plan. Initially NZ too opted for a zero case policy. However when Omicron entered the country this policy became unworkable. Despite NZ’s excellent PR campaign in the early 2020’s, Omicron was bungled leading to voter dissatisfaction, riots and mass protests.

Facing a sudden drop in popularity, the ruling party U-turned, opting for the more politically safe, “living with Covid.” However like many EU countries, NZ had a high vaccination rate so the shift to managed and living with Covid was not such a difficult move. As expected though, cases and deaths rose exponentially.

Monday 16th May, multiple news sites were reporting US deaths from Covid hit 1 million in less than 2.5 years. To put it into USA centric perspective,  if correct, those figures equal a 9/11 attack every day for a year. Roughly equal to US causalities during their Civil and World War II combined. It’s as if Boston and Pittsburgh were wiped out. Clearly this highlights one situation where western thinking is different from Chinese thinking.

The argument raging both internationally and to some degree, locally centres around “Human Rights.” However this seems to focus on the “rights” of the majority of middle class city dwellers, aged under 60. This conveniently ignores the rights of rural citizens, esp those over 80 who are unvaccinated living in regions with less developed health care and hospital facilities and therefore, most at risk. In some ways, China is living “Sophie’s Choice; having to choose between negatively impacting the economy and comfort, convenience of the younger middle class over the lives of the rural seniors.

To summarise: Political expediency and protecting the incomes of the elite and wealthy was a priory in the west. In China the emphasis was on people’s safety.

What we find particularly galling and hypercritical is those western countries who are now throwing open their doors – having pretty much cornered the market on vaccines at the expense of the poorer African etc countries – are now criticising the Zero case policy. Ironically the very policy that they themselves championed and practised up until 6 or so months ago. Back then it was a “necessary control method to limit Covid’s spread and protect citizens. Now, today it has became a Draconian, barbaric practice denying Chinese of their basic human rights.

We hope this post has helped present a clearer, more objective viewpoint on China’s Covid policy. For deeper understanding urge you to read this article from Sixth Tone: National Omicron Outbreak Could Kill Over 1.5 Million in China – study published in Nature Medicine which identified low vaccination among the elderly and limited access to antiviral drugs as key barriers to safe re-opening.

We warmly welcome robust debate or discussion, but would remind you to keep your comments non personal and objective. Abusive or off topic comments will not be published.

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