Beijing’s COVID-19 strategy–known as “COVID Zero”—is getting increasingly draconian and arbitrary as the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutates to become exponentially more transmissible.
The measures include mass testing, surveillance, quarantines, driving, flight, and border controls, disinfectant trucks, and aggressive contact tracing.
On Dec. 28, the regime restricted entry into Beijing for anyone who had visited a border county over the previous two weeks, including from counties with no cases.
In Jingxi, on the border with Vietnam, four COVID “rule-breakers,” who allegedly transported illegal migrants, were reportedly marched through the city on Dec. 28 holding their own photos in a “walk of shame.” In a video, the four wear white hazmat suits and are flanked by two police officers each. Following and surrounding the suspects are dozens of police in black, some wearing riot gear.
The COVID Zero strategy, for all its social and political faults, might have worked against the less-transmissible Alpha and Beta variants, if Beijing’s self-reporting is to be believed. But the more contagious Delta variant is straining the system, and Omicron, which spreads 70 times more quickly, will likely destroy it. Globally, COVID cases increased 11 percent in just one week in late December, according to the World Health Organization.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must choose: maintain its strict lockdowns, or rapidly immunize its population with more effective Western mRNA vaccines.
Lockdowns are likely to fail against Omicron, and mRNA immunizations will take time. Ending lockdowns before mRNA vaccinations could allow Omicron to sweep through the population with the risk of millions of deaths. There’s no good solution for the hostages that China calls its citizens.
COVID Zero is already causing some reports of “starvation” in Xi’an, where The Sun reported that residents are locked down until their mass test results come back negative. Some lack the ability to shop and are using social media to beg neighbors for food.
China has stockpiled 1.5 years’ worth of grain and bean reserves from international markets, which could help it extend lockdowns. But China’s sudden purchases are causing famines in other parts of the world. China currently has 18 percent of the world’s population, but 69 percent of the world’s maize reserves.
Even so, residents in Xi’an have noted that China’s grain reserves aren’t reaching their bowls.
While the latest variant, Omicron, is as much as 25 percent less likely than Delta to cause hospitalization for those with vaccines or prior infection, according to a British study, that drops to 11 percent for those without protection.
Tragically, Chinese vaccines are relatively ineffective, including against Omicron. While China licensed the more effective Western vaccines that use mRNA technology, “Beijing has yet to approve them for domestic use, waylaid by what would appear to be technological nationalism and misplaced pride,” according to Howard W. French, writing in the World Politics Review.
French noted that Beijing’s “stringent policies … have had the extra benefit [for the CCP] of increasing political control, a permanent aim of the country’s authoritarian system.”
China’s political reaction to Omicron is likely to get much stronger as the variant evades controls and expands rapidly in the population.
On Dec. 21, a Delta flight turned back over new cleaning rules imposed by Shanghai. The rules, apparently announced mid-flight from Seattle, require significantly more ground time, and are without a grandfather clause. The new procedures “are not operationally viable,” according to the airline, and also redundant, according to reports.
Xi’an, with a population of 13 million, is locked down and has undergone mass testing five times. Residents aren’t allowed to drive, and all domestic flights are banned. Yet the city still identifies approximately 150 infections per day, up from a few dozen in early December. These are extraordinarily low numbers relative to the spread outside China. But almost none are the more transmissible Omicron variant, which apparently has yet to take hold in the country.
If Xi’an’s lockdown isn’t enough to stop the Delta variant from its slow burn, it will do even less against Omicron.
The human costs of Beijing’s failed strategies against COVID are global and mounting, from the early coverup to the ineffective vaccines, lockdown strategy, and grain hoards that are causing famines internationally.
The CCP must put its pride aside and rapidly vaccinate China’s population with the most effective mRNA vaccines. Lacking such a plan, it seems that the tough measures seen in Xi’an and Jingxi will only expand, with draconian effect on what freedoms Chinese citizens have left, and a rising risk of starvation in China and the world’s developing countries.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.