China’s Zero Covid just a flawed public health policy or a political ego?

China’s latest ‘Zero-Covid’ policy aimed to score brownie points by showing fewer Covid numbers than its western counterpart is not only flawed scientifically but is fraught with dangerous consequences. From late 2019 to early 2020, when Covid was first discovered in China, it first tried to downplay its severity. When it could not deny it anymore, it imposed substantial restrictions on its citizen’s movements and visitors traveling to the country. The protocol implemented draconian policies to prevent the spread of the epidemic. While how successful it was will always be up for debate, there was no denying that for an originator country, it did stem the official numbers. While countries like US & European nations like Spain were ravaged by the disease and the fatality that followed it, China’s heavy-handedness bore fruit. However, the world subsequently learned from the experience that lockdown might be helpful to buy time to develop a vaccine and vaccinate the populace to stem the epidemic. It is a poor choice as a management strategy. It has no long-term beneficial effects but rather has innate adverse social consequences, including mental disorders, financial hardship, and even precipitous economic downturn to the point of initiating worldwide recession.

Cue forward about one-and-a-half years, early 2022. The world is learning to coexist with Covid, thanks to the vaccines. It has known the practical problems that prolonged isolation and restrictions on the movements of its citizens bring. But China, a lone contrast to most of the world, with a new zeal, has gone ahead with its ‘Zero-Covid’ policy measures even more stringently. Unfortunately, the Zero-Covid policy, which had previously worked to keep the tolls low, has faltered after the virus mutated to more transmissible versions like the Omicron variant. While countries like India, Singapore, and New Zealand had a similar lockdown, they initiated a massive vaccination program. Thus, most of the populations in these countries have developed a hybrid resistance to Covid due to the association of herd immunity due to community infection and vaccines.

On the other hand, China still has an overwhelmingly large population; some accounts put it over 50% not protected by effective vaccines or boosters, leading to a broader spread of infection.

Moreover, due to the strict Covid policy, its citizen neither has natural immunity. This combination, in association with a transformed virus that is highly infective, has made experts warn that China could be the site of a tsunami of Covid! In its implementation of the so-called Zero-Covid policy, the Communist apparatus has zealously curbed even basic human rights. Western journalists embedded in China have reported that citizens have been prevented from getting enough food or primary healthcare, thanks to the lockdown. China’s measures have shifted the problem of Covid-19 to being less epidemiological, but more concerningly, it has become a ticking time bomb of economic and political backlash.

China’s authoritarian policies are less rooted in science and even less in logical reasons. They started sealing entire communities in case of a single case of Covid up to 14 days. The mass testing of citizens only managed to spread the virus faster due to proximity. Many healthcare workers tested and randomly isolated cases, leaving citizens without basic healthcare facilities. With restrictions on movement and mass quarantines, citizens struggled for food, medicines, and other necessities. Employing healthcare staff to impose lockdown testing measures has resulted in a shortage of people to deliver Covid vaccines to at-risk populations, which should have been the top priority.

These draconian measures have spewed tragic stories of human suffering. Authorities clamping down a residential building to prevent residents from escaping a quarantined building in a blazing fire in China’s far western region of Xinjiang that killed ten people and injured nine. While official confirmation of the reason for this tragedy which burnt to death even a child is not forthcoming. It is not very unusual that heavy media clampdown, which is common in Communist China, possibly prevents its masses from knowing such consequences of their government policies.

While the Chinese government has recently eased the restrictions by a marginal amount due to unending public protests, there is still much to be done. This policy is a signature of the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s effort to curb Covid. The welfare of its citizen might still be an afterthought to saving its political propaganda. How much longer can this iron-curtain state practically deny that its outdated ‘Zero-Covid’ policies have taken a significant toll on the mental, physical, and financial health of its citizens remains to be seen.

China’s propaganda machinery meanwhile has pounded its citizens with the notion that this is the only alternative showing evidence of massive suffering, death and destruction as seen in other countries particularly US. While most Chinese have shown acquiescence to such restriction till it evolved into barbaric proportion as currently evidenced. Political observers believe that the mass protest in different cities of China, as observed, is the biggest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square days. It may be remembered that tanks were rolled over college students and unarmed citizens to quell this protest. Some critics have even contended that this is more to show the Chinese population the power of the Chinese Communist Party and its re-elected leader Xi Jinping rather than a sound public health policy. Future will certainly tell.