China's 'Zero-COVID' Policy Wreaks Havoc

Draconian pandemic measures help drive China’s economy into the ditch

China's 'Zero-COVID' Policy Wreaks Havoc
A man rides a bicycle on a street seen through a fence of a compound in lockdown during a COVID-19 lockdown in the Jing'an district, in Shanghai, China, on May 19, 2022. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
Stu Cvrk

Chinese citizens have been writhing under the so-called “zero-COVID” policy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since it was first implemented in Hubei Province in January 2020. The CCP’s medical authorities opted for a policy of containment and elimination instead of mitigation and treatment.

The results have been disastrous, but Chinese authorities show no signs of reversing the strict measures despite the lessons learned about the virus and the deleterious impact of lockdowns and quarantines around the world over the past 30 months.

Let us examine the topic.

What Is ‘Zero-COVID’?

These COVID measures were first implemented and evolved in China after the initial SARS-CoV-2 breakout in Wuhan in late 2019. The Chinese authorities responded with typically draconian communist tactics: virtually all of Hubei was locked down, people’s movements were curtailed entirely, travel to and from the city was banned, a strict testing regimen was evolved, etc.

From this response—and the statistics conveniently provided by Chinese medical authorities—was borne the mitigation myth of “two weeks to flatten the curve,” which was the response then implemented by many other countries based on the “Chinese success” in slowing new cases of the virus to levels manageable by the public health system.

No one knows exactly how many Chinese have died from COVID to this day (or from the lockdowns themselves). Yet the world took its cue from the CCP, which had ulterior motives in propagating the “success” of its public health response to the virus.

The Wuhan response was a mixture of elimination and mitigation strategies. Over the next two-plus years, the “zero-COVID” policy has evolved into primarily an elimination strategy that included these measures:
  • Lockdowns (partial or full lockdowns as arbitrarily determined by the authorities—from apartment buildings to whole cities—that are intended to virtually eliminate human contacts).
  • Routine PCR testing (oral and anal).
  • Quarantines (the isolation of infected people for 14 days, either in their homes or in special facilities).
  • Contact tracing (resulting in 14-day isolations for the close contacts of infected people, with “close contacts” arbitrarily defined by the medical authorities).
  • Community-wide screening (extending the testing well outside the locations of infected people to include neighborhoods, sub-districts, districts, and whole cities).
  • Mandatory vaccines for all Chinese (87 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people have been vaccinated as of June 4).
People queue up for COVID-19 nucleic acid tests at Beijing Lize Financial Business District in Beijing, China, on April 26, 2022. (VCG via Getty Images)
People queue up for COVID-19 nucleic acid tests at Beijing Lize Financial Business District in Beijing, China, on April 26, 2022. (VCG via Getty Images)

For the average Chinese citizen, this means dealing with these realities daily: lockdowns initiated anywhere at any time without advance notice; being confined to one’s living quarters (including being physically locked in by the authorities); being sent to a quarantine facility if tested positive for COVID; limited or no access to hospitals or medical facilities for routine medical procedures and urgent care; reduced availability to food supplies and disrupted food supply chains (reliance on government-provided food plus some mass-ordered for delivery if able/fortunate); and “escape” from home quarantine authorized only for mandatory daily COVID tests or preapproved excursions (rare).

The few remaining freedoms and liberties allowed by the CCP are thus sacrificed on the altar of what the CCP arbitrarily presents as the “common good of the Chinese people,” in this case, the propaganda that these measures will eliminate the spread of the virus and save lives.

The Real Purpose of ‘Zero-COVID’

The primary purpose of China’s “zero-COVID” policy is a CCP psychological warfare campaign that targets domestic and foreign audiences. For Chinese citizens, the policy reinforces CCP control of daily lives and the hopelessness of dissent when targeted lockdowns can be used to withhold access to food and basic services.
Controlling dissent is particularly important for CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and his political faction in the run-up to the 20th National Congress now planned for Oct. 16 in Beijing, during which it is expected that he will be awarded an unprecedented third five-year term as leader.

For foreign audiences, the policy’s purpose and the continuing lockdowns are to perpetuate the pandemic narrative and sow fear that reinforces authoritarian “zero-COVID”-like measures in other countries around the world. The result is a shutdown—or at least a continuing slowdown—of the world economy to the benefit of the export-oriented Chinese economy, as well as psychologically preparing the masses for authoritarian controls under future planned CCP world leadership.

For both audiences, the state-run Chinese media’s trumpeting of the “zero-COVID” policy drowns out studies that show the deleterious effects of long-term lockdowns and the efficacy of repurposed drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin in reducing the risk of dying from COVID if administered early (see here, here, and here). And the ubiquitous face masks (an overt psychological and social control mechanism) are ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus and can cause “health deterioration,” as reported here.
Propagandizing about “zero-COVID” also masks Chinese economic problems that are becoming increasingly apparent to China watchers.

The Effects

As of Sept. 5, Breitbart reported that 74 Chinese cities, 14 of which are provincial capitals, “are now under full or partial lockdown, including … Wuhan [the city of origin].” This includes Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province and the largest city to lock down since Shanghai’s full lockdown ended on May 31. And there is no end in sight.
An empty road is seen in Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan Province, as the provincial capital city is under COVID-19 lockdown on Sept. 2, 2022. (CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
An empty road is seen in Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan Province, as the provincial capital city is under COVID-19 lockdown on Sept. 2, 2022. (CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The effects of these lockdowns range from the spread of general unease about the CCP’s ability to manage the virus, to local protests of lockdowns, to boycotts, to disruption of supply chains, and to a contraction of the Chinese economy. As a sampling of the increasing economic problems that the Chinese media ignore with rosy stories of progress, planned numbers met, production increases, etc., here are some of the reports from foreign observers that tell the tale of a teetering economy with serious problems:

The extreme arbitrariness of the “zero-COVID” policy is shown by the July 27 lockdown of nearly 1 million people in Wuhan due to four asymptomatic COVID cases, as well as a Fox Business report of people fleeing an Ikea store in Shanghai that was being locked up because it was determined that one customer might have come in contact with a 6-year-old boy who tested positive for COVID (they didn’t want to be trapped in a COVID quarantine).
As a result of these and many other incidents, individual Chinese citizens are increasingly outraged with the lockdowns and speaking out. A Breitbart report quoted a man in Chengdu: “Personally, I’m extremely fed up with and not supportive of these policies. But there’s nothing I can do.”
Perhaps Chengdu residents will become involved in local protests over food shortages such as those that took place during the Shanghai lockdown in April.
More recently, in Chongqing, large protests in the Lianfang and Tuwan subdistricts of the municipality forced authorities to lift strict lockdown measures on Aug. 28.

People who are locked down can’t contribute to China’s GDP or earn a living and feed their families. No wonder the protests are increasing across China.

A report in The Guardian in April estimated that “the equivalent of 40% of China’s gross domestic product is estimated to be under some form of lockdown.” That included two months-worth of lockdowns in Shanghai, China’s financial capital, which had to have depressed the country’s GDP despite the CCP’s statistics.
A report from mid-August predicted that China will not meet its growth predictions and will be forced to devaluate the yuan in order to stimulate the Chinese economy. From the report: “Retail sales are currently running 0.5% behind calendar year estimates, while industrial production is running 0.7% behind and fixed asset investment is 0.3% behind.”
According to the August World Economics SMI report, “business activity in China is still in contraction.” “Zero-COVID” lockdowns of dozens of major production centers will do that over time!
The contraction largely caused by the lockdowns has exacerbated China’s debt problem. Locked-down workers can’t earn money to pay their rents and mortgages. The Hill reported that “a massive mortgage revolt is underway, and as banks fail, protests grow. Today, 50 million empty or unfinished units bought on ‘spec’ in hundreds of urban areas may never be completed or paid for, equivalent to one-third of all housing units in the United States.” And according to a Radio Free Asia report on Sept. 7, the Chinese mortgage revolt had spread to “119 cities and a total of 340 projects, and 2022 property owners.”
To top it off, Taiwan’s Central News Agency provided this gloomy report on Sept. 7: “China’s economic downturn, along with the Covid epidemic and other factors, have drained local government revenues. Mainland Chinese media reported that many local governments have been resorting to fines indiscriminately to generate revenue.”

Concluding Thoughts

The CCP persists in its “zero-COVID” policies to the detriment of its citizens. That is because COVID is more of a political pandemic than a health crisis. While most of the world has transitioned to mitigation and treatment regimens, Beijing remains committed to its unscientific attempts to contain and eliminate the virus. This is because “zero-COVID” is all about political control for the CCP at home and the perpetuation of economic lockdowns and associated societal turmoil abroad to camouflage China’s economic problems—just as it has always been.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Stu Cvrk retired as a captain after serving 30 years in the U.S. Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. Through education and experience as an oceanographer and systems analyst, Cvrk is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he received a classical liberal education that serves as the key foundation for his political commentary.