Locked down since March 28, Shanghai residents are feeling the heat of a draconian decision and venting their anger and frustration on Weibo, China’s social media platform. Police in hazmat suits (hazardous materials) can be seen in videos patrolling nearly empty streets. Local clashes between residents and authorities over the restrictions have been reported.
Xi Jinping’s government has defended the extreme method, with Vice Premier Sun Chunlan in charge of China’s fight against Covid-19 reiterating “the government’s unwavering adherence to the dynamic zero-Covid approach”, d especially as it ensured the smooth and safe passage of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing in February and March respectively. Incidentally, most Covid deaths recorded in China are among unvaccinated elderly people.
After two years of monitoring the spread of the coronavirus, organizing international sporting events and having the chance to vaccinate the population, the implementation of a total containment in 2022 seems unjustified, fanciful and cruel.
Lockdown was chosen as the preferred “sanitary measure” in China to compensate for low vaccination rates and overcrowding in urban areas.
The confinement also restricts the process of natural immunity within the population.
From the peak of Covid to the peak of state control, popular sentiment in every country has turned against mounting restrictions. There have been protests in France, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada and Italy, with Europe becoming the visible and vocal center of global protests against Covid restrictions. Causes of anger range from restrictions encroaching on human rights and deepening economic hardship to opposition to mandatory Covid ‘green passes’ and compulsory vaccinations.
It is easier for an autocracy like China to suppress civil rights and push through a zero-Covid policy than in democratic countries.
Controlling Covid in China is a state project, which the government sees as a measure of its own prowess, rather than something that must also take into account large-scale human suffering and hardship. Will Shanghai’s lockdown trigger mass public protests? Probably not, where the hand of the law is tough and public disapproval has no political outcome. But the lockdown is undoubtedly testing the Chinese people’s high threshold of tolerance for “authoritarian preoccupation.”
The impact of the “zero-Covid” policy in China’s financial and commercial capital will have repercussions beyond the country. The shortages affecting the local population will also be felt outside the city and, indeed, outside the country. At the cost of the “takeover”, China is likely to pay the cost of its Covid containment policy in more than one way.
China was among the first countries to put in place containment measures to contain the coronavirus. He could be among the last to continue with them. India’s proposed National Public Health Bill, which is expected to be introduced in parliament during the monsoon session, would define a lockdown. It is hoped that it will not end up becoming a frequent tool in the hands of the administration for measures such as air pollution control, which the government did not do enough for in the first place.