Why does China not abandon the “zero Covid” strategy despite popular protest

After Shanghai, will Beijing in turn be put under glass? Since March, China has been battling the outbreak of Covid-19 linked to the Omicron variant SARS-CoV-2 at least 17 of its regions. Authorities reported 11,285 new cases on Thursday, April 28, including 9,791 asymptomatic cases. High numbers for a country aiming to “completely eliminate pollution”. in BeijingOver a hundred positive cases have been identified since the week of April 18, including 50 on Wednesday alone, and Beijing residents fear they, in turn, will suffer heavy confinement.

Since the virus was discovered at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, the central authority has implemented the “zero-Covid” strategy set out by three. “Test, Trace, Isolate”. againstThis policy aims to prevent the circulation of the virus at all costs by identifying and isolating those infected as quickly as possible. Australia and New Zealand relied on this approach for a while, before being abandoned in the fall of 2021, mired in the advancement of the delta variant.

Today, most countries in the world have chosen to live with the virus, but China continues to imprison millions of people in sometimes extremely harsh conditions. Perseverance brings victory, Xi Jinping struck on April 14. We must respect scientific rigor, the zero-Covid strategy.” Because despite its increasingly high cost, this health battle is also political for the Chinese president.

Until the emergence of the Omicron variant, the “Zero Covid” strategy allowed China to avoid closing in on the entire country. Through spot bookings, extensive testing, and isolation of patients, Beijing has put its total death toll below 5,000 and 200,000 since the start of the epidemic in late 2019, according to official figures, Who do not integrate with symptoms and remain Much lower than international estimates.

But with regard to vaccination, there are differences between the population. According to data from Our World in Data *And 1.25 billion people have a full vaccination schedule, which is 88% of the population, but the vaccination rate remains low among the oldest. By March 18, only 51% of those over 80 had received two doses and 20% had received a third dose, according to China’s National Health Commission, which was cited The World (paid article). In Shanghai, authorities said on April 19 that two-thirds of those over 60 had received two injections and less than 40% had received a booster dose.

“Covid Zero does not distinguish between acute and mild infections, which is why China has not prioritized vaccinating the elderly.”

Yanchong Huang, China health policy specialist

in “The Lancet”

“The central government has preferred to vaccinate people who work and travel, rather than vaccinate vulnerable groups of the population,” Adds to the franceinfo website Valérie Niquet, a Chinese specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research. He went, The Chinese health system is unsuitable for this population, who find it more difficult to navigate or obtain information, because most care takes place in a hospital. “The vaccination rate is correct in the city, but in the countryside we have very little information”continuous Valerie Nicket.

Older people are also reluctant to get vaccinated due to unfounded rumors that vaccines have harmful effects on them. “Therefore, many refuse vaccination, especially since belief in the virtues of TCM is very strong in these age groups.”analyzes the epidemiologist Antoine Flaholt with Express.

Issue Vaccination is more important because the only vaccines available in the country – the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines with inactivated virus – are less effective than those containing messenger RNA, particularly against the Omicron variant and the BA.2 subvariate.

According to an article in the scientific journal scalpel* Posted on April 20th, A phase 3 trial of the Sinopharm vaccine showed that two doses were 79% effective against symptomatic infections and that Sinopharm was 51% effective. By comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine is 95% effective against symptomatic infections, the World Health Organization notes. This relative effectiveness prompted French nationals in China in March to demand that Paris send emergency mRNA vaccines to protect themselves.

Despite the situation, the central government has no intention of importing Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines for the time being. “Beijing wants to show that it is strong and organized enough to manage the epidemic on its own.”explains to franceinfo Jean-Louis Rocca, a professor at Sciences Po and a specialist in China.

“Maintaining the ‘zero covid’ strategy is a matter of political legitimacy with the population and competition with foreign countries, particularly the United States.”

Jean-Louis Roca, China Specialist

in franceinfo

For the past two years, Chinese state media have been spreading propaganda about the West’s failures in dealing with the spread of the virus, instead praising China’s successes..

Does China even have the means to change policy and allow the virus to spread? By preventing almost any pollution since the beginning of the epidemic, the authorities have not allowed the development of immunity in the population. They fear finding themselves in a similar situation in Hong Kong, which has been facing a devastating fifth wave since the emergence of the Omicron variant, despite its “Zero Covid” strategy.

“China doesn’t have a lot of options. If it loosens its restrictions, there will inevitably be a massive number of infections and deaths.” warns in scalpel* Zhengming Chen, professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford. For example, if Hong Kong’s current death rates were applied to the Chinese population, there would be more than 50,000 deaths per day in China, he explains. Sunday newspaper (paid article).

An intolerable situation for the Chinese health system, already saturated and marked by very high disparities. If cities have large hospitals with doctors and resources, then the countryside lacks centers and caregivers. In January, a pregnant woman in the eighth month of her pregnancy miscarried after she was denied admission to a hospital in Xi’an (North), because she had not had a valid screening test. In a video that went viral in April but was censored by the government, residents denounced the refusal to care for non-Covid patients, due to space constraints.

“The Chinese health system is unable to absorb the current epidemic. This is one of the reasons for the persistence of the ‘zero COVID’ policy.

Marie Francoise Renard, China economist

in franceinfo

Other voices have been raised against the “zero Covid” approach. Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese epidemiologist who was awarded the Medal of the Republic by Xi Jinping in 2020 for his role in the fight against Covid-19, is now under scrutiny after he wrote that the strategy was not sustainable in the long term..

at Article published in the magazine temperamental nature*, Chinese scientistss A proposal to develop remote consultations for mild infections and stock more masks, gowns, and respirators in community hospitals. An approach that, in their opinion, would make it possible to change course with him April and May 2022.

So far, Beijing is unlikely to hear them. China has been facing a slowdown in its economy since the start of the year due to quarantine measures, and Xi Jinping has made economic recovery a priority. According to the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal *China’s president has ordered his administration to ensure that the country’s growth exceeds that of the United States this year.

China plans to achieve 5.5% GDP growth in 2022. Such a performance would allow Beijing to assert the superiority of its model over that of Western democracy. But with Shanghai, the country’s economic engine, and formerly the technology city of Shenzhen locked in, that goal appears increasingly hypothetical. “The economic situation is bad, transportation is disrupted, factories are closing, construction sites are closed,” he said. Describes researcher Jean-Francois Roca.

“The legitimacy of the Communist Party is based on its ability to protect the population and ensure a good standard of living. With Zero Covid, there is a contradiction between protection and prosperity.”

Jean Francois Rocca

in franceinfo

Admitting the failure of this strategy means that the party is no longer the best possible government. Unimaginable recognition, especially since the 20th Congress of the Communist Party is scheduled for the fall and Xi Jinping is playing for re-election. Easing containment measures, with the risk of facing a killer wave, would severely weaken the outgoing president. For Jean-Francois Roca, now facing Beijing Patrol for his public policies, but also for his system.”

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