China’s zero COVID-19 face-off

COVID-19 is the worst disease to affect humanity since the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920. Unlike the Spanish Flu, COVID-19 originated in China. 

The official story is COVID-19 spread from a bat being held at a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei, China. However, this story has not been proven. Many still speculate COVID-19 may have originated in a Chinese laboratory working on infectious diseases.  

Another difference from the time of the Spanish Flu is how easy it is for information to spread around the world through things like the internet. China has continuously tried to ignore this fact. Their secrecy, both regarding affairs inside and outside of China, has been disastrous for China and the world. 

China does not want people to know about COVID-19’s origins

In the United States, COVID-19 did not become well known until the Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus on March 11, 2020. As a result of his positive test, the Jazz’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City was called off. Minutes later, the NBA season was postponed indefinitely. 

This was the first time COVID-19 materially affected the lives of Americans. People, organizations, state governments, and the federal government did not know what to do. Similar situations repeated themselves all around the world. Everyone was caught off guard.

It is logical to ask “why was this the case? Why were we so unprepared?” The answers to those questions are because of China and Chinese president Xi Jinping’s desire to maintain China’s image around the world. 

China first reported a “cluster of cases of pneumonia” in Wuhan to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, 2019. However, this was not when China first knew of a mysterious illness in Wuhan. 

Reporting into how the Chinese government handled COVID-19 shows that the disease was first detected on November 17, 2019. Not only did China not alert WHO until over a month later, it was actively censoring doctors who tried to alert the world about COVID-19. 

China’s secrecy resulted in deaths all around the world and for COVID-19 to spread undetected. Clusters of COVID-19 were present on the West Coast in early December, well before China alerted WHO to the supposed “pneumonia” outbreak in Wuhan. 

Instead of collaborating with the world on how to best fight a new deadly disease, China tried to keep secrets and eventually tried to pass the blame onto WHO and even the United States by spreading propaganda saying COVID-19 originated in the U.S.

China’s draconian COVID-19 response was designed to hide the truth and has punished the world

China’s response to COVID-19 was one the strictest in the world. People’s ability to move freely was restricted, entire manufacturing sectors were shut down over fear of outbreaks, information was limited, and the outside world was shut off. 

Collectively, these policies are referred to as China’s “zero COVID” policy. “Zero COVID” has been the official policy of the Chinese government since it first recognized that COVID-19 was present in China. 

The impacts of China’s actions were felt around the globe, especially in the U.S.. The decrease in productivity within the Chinese economy affected nearly every part of the U.S.’s economy.

This supply chain and inflation crises the U.S. is currently experiencing can be traced back to China’s COVID restrictions. These crises have meant that vital industries can not get what they need. One particular industry that has been hit are hospitals who are struggling to get chemicals needed for X-rays

Despite all these impacts, China insists it is doing the right thing. President Xi Jinping declared the zero COVID policy to be a winning strategy in the war versus COVID. 

A recent wave of protests against the policy might bring about change, but it will not be without a fight. 


Why Xi Jinping has stuck with his zero COVID policy

The concept of “face” is an especially important one in Asian cultures, especially Chinese culture. This concept can essentially be boiled down to respect, honor and social standing

More importantly, the idea of face necessitates the need to prevent embarrassment and prevent anything that might affect one’s social standing. Understanding this is key to understanding why Xi Jinping is still holding on to his failed zero COVID policy. 

Any changes to China’s zero COVID policy must be done in a way that does not signify a failure on behalf of the Chinese government or Xi Jinping individually. The level of scrutiny applied to China by the outside world makes this incredibly difficult. 

Ending the zero COVID policy without it being seen as a failure is even more difficult considering how the rest of the world has dealt with COVID-19. The rest of the world took a more measured response and has arguably done better fighting COVID-19 than China. 

In the U.S., President Trump enacted travel bans from places affected by COVID and required testing before Americans could return to the U.S., but he largely left domestic COVID policies up to the states. This allowed for local governments to better tailor their restrictions to the needs of their people. 

Additionally, no nationally mandated lockdowns meant that companies were able to decide their own COVID policies. In most cases, workers who could work from home did work from home and those who needed to come in were required to follow common-sense social distancing and some testing requirements. 

What the U.S. experienced was a stark difference from what China experienced. The U.S.’s economy has recovered even quicker than the Chinese economy as well. 

The U.S. economy is not the only thing that has recovered better than China’s. Life in the U.S. is back to normal. Yes, COVID-19 still exists, but it does not dominate everyday life like it did in early 2020. 


Public pressure and economic stress will make China end its zero COVID policy 

The zero COVID policy has deprived Chinese citizens of living their normal lives. Testing is mandatory, restaurants are closed, and many workplaces have become “closed loop” workplaces where workers are required to live onsite. 

All these measures, especially the closed loop workplaces, have made people feel inhuman and simply like pieces of China’s machine. Recently, tensions have boiled over and protests have filled the streets. 

Protests occurred in over 20 cities and are making the Chinese government reconsider its zero COVID approach.  

One particular aspect of everyday life that the Chinese are being deprived of by the zero COVID policy, is the ability to congregate and celebrate together. As the rest of the world celebrates their nations and the sport of soccer at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the Chinese are locked down. 

Many Chinese have pointed to the World Cup as a spark for some of the recent protests. The sight of fellow humans living freely and celebrating their nations was apparently too much for some to take. 

The Chinese government has responded to this by censoring World Cup broadcasts to not show crowds of maskless fans celebrating together. However, images of the crowds can not completely be hidden. 

It begs the question whether China believes that it can do this kind of censorship forever. Either China decides to completely close off and become like their neighbors North Korea or it embraces a more relaxed approach to COVID and joins the rest of the world. 

Early reports show China is choosing to do the latter. This is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing. 

Chinese citizens are not the only people affected by the zero COVID policy. Companies operating in China are also being affected. Companies like Tesla and Apple have chosen to switch to closed loop workplaces at their factories, but those are now becoming untenable. Protests at workplaces are now making companies, like Apple, reconsider their investment in China. 

Experts say that zero COVID policies are not sustainable, especially with the more contagious Omicron variant of COVID becoming the dominant strand of the virus. Those experts believe that it will be even harder to justify China’s zero COVID policy once the spread of Omicron occurs and people are getting infected despite the restrictions. 

Whether those predictions are correct are still to be seen. However, if protests keep occurring and companies keep leaving, it is only a matter of time before the Chinese government completely backs down. Xi Jinping and his government may never admit failure, but expect things to change in China eventually. 

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