China Lives With ‘Zero Covid’ As The World Lives With Covid


This is a fully plagiarised compilation. There is nothing original about it. I have only used my vivid imagination to string excerpts together from a large number of articles to put across the dismal view of the animal farm which China is becoming.

Articles in People’s Daily,  the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece have repeatedly stressed the importance of sticking to the zero-Covid policy. They hammer home the message that strict controls must remain in place. They  have also  extinguished people’s expectations that the great 20 Party Congress would be a turning point for more relaxed controls. Expectations that relaxing of measures was on the table ahead of the party congress are now dashed. For quite some time more than two hundred million people are in some form of lockdown continuously in China. Its taking a serious economic toll. At the beginning of the year, Nomura expected China’s economy to grow 4.3 percent in 2022. After successive rounds of lockdowns, it lowered its forecast to 2.7 percent. Zero Covid is set to endure as more transmissible variants are surfacing in China. But more significantly the Chinese people are living an existence which can mildly be defined as Kafkaesque. 

Once upon a time, China’s ability to find and isolate cases was the crown jewel of its pandemic strategy. While countries around the world saw infections soar and hospitals reach capacity, China’s Covid numbers remained low. Officials in Beijing relished in their success handling the virus while Chinese consumers kept the economy humming. Xi declared “We have won the great battle against Covid!” “History will remember those who contributed!” “Extinguish every outbreak!” “Do not let the prolonged epidemic and the economic downturn make you give up your dreams or lower your expectations,” Such battle-style slogans were unleashed to rally support China’s  top-down, zero-tolerance coronavirus policies

Propaganda is one of the Chinese Communist Party’s favoured tools for social control. In the Covid era , it has been on overdrive to support Zero-Covid. By some estimates, at least 120 Covid-related propaganda phrases have been created since the beginning of the pandemic. On state television, Beijing’s “nine storm fortification actions” around the pandemic are frequently repeated to keep people in line with Covid policies. The nine actions are: neighbourhood lockdowns, mass testing, contact tracing, disinfection, quarantine centres, increased health care capacity, traditional Chinese medicine, screening of neighbourhoods and prevention of local transmission.

Zero Covid has put 1.4 billion Chinese in a precarious existence filled with lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing, The Chinese public puts up a show, 24/7/365, for an audience of one:  Xi Jinping. The Zero-Covid campaign is probably the clearest testament to the power of Xi, who has proved that he is as capable of mobilizing the masses as Mao Zedong did when he launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Mao didn’t care that people starved to death or that the country was thrown into chaos in those two bloody campaigns. Xi doesn’t seem to care that his campaign has been extremely disruptive. He has made “Zero Covid” a political imperative, linking support for the policy to support for the Communist Party, as he looks to hail China’s success in curbing infections as a sign of the superiority of Beijing’s authoritarian system.

In every village, town and city, testing requirements have become more burdensome and the punishments for failing to comply more severe. People are forced to submit to the swab through punitive measures. In China, the police have detained people for days for skipping P.C.R. tests, sometimes locking them up for more than a week. China’s “Zero Covid” is a web of digital codes. At the entrance to every public space — restaurants, apartment complexes, even public restrooms — is a printed-out QR code that people must scan with their phones to log their visit. Everyone also has a personal health code, which uses test results and location history to assign a colour. Green is good. Yellow or red, and you may be sent to quarantine. You can take all the required tests, and be perfectly healthy, but your health code can still turn yellow. There is utter arbitrariness. You’re under lockdown, until someone decides you’re not. That is the big brother. 

Local governments  are under pressure to stimulate a slowing economy. There is a serious imbalance between their revenues and expenditure.  However building a large testing network is mandatory. It has created a huge financial strain. Local authorities in provinces such as Shanxi and Jiangxi have already diverted money from public projects in order to fund pandemic monitoring and control. In some cities, civil servants have faced pay cuts. In others, bonuses for officials have been frozen to help prop up testing. There are signs from some of China’s biggest testing companies that there is a cash shortfall. In some cases the amount of money  owed to them has nearly doubled over the past year and could end up as “bad debts.”The estimate is that regular mass testing would cost China nearly $100 billion a year if 900 million people were tested every three days. That is massive. 


Testing sites are ample. They  are within a 15-minute walk in cities and are easily identified even from afar. They usually have a line, which can grow to be blocks long during lunchtime or after work. Many also have their own soundtrack: a pre-recorded voice, ordering people to stand one meter apart, blaring through a megaphone on loop. On hot days, people wait sometimes for 30 minutes, face masks plastered to their skin by sweat. In the city of Chongqing this summer, 10 million residents stood in 100-plus-degree heat to get Covid tests while wildfires raged nearby. Two cases were detected that day in August. In Shanghai, officials had raised a typhoon warning, and ordered the skyline, including the iconic Pearl Tower, darkened in case of a power outage. However dozens huddled in a testing line under umbrellas. When people tried to run away from quarantine buildings during an earthquake in Sichuan Province this year, epidemic workers were caught on camera blocking them from seeking safety. Videos of the episode were posted online and quickly deleted by censors, who said people should “at least bring masks before escaping from buildings,” even when an earthquake is “highly destructive.” In Luding County, the epicentre of the earthquake, which killed at least 86 people, the local government told residents to make sure they got tested every day. In Xiamen, in the country’s southeast, pandemic workers swabbed the throats of fishermen before they tested their catch of fish and crab. Cars got swabbed, too, at an auto show in Chengdu. In the tropical island province of Hainan, often dubbed the Hawaii of China, the authorities ordered mass testing after just two cases were detected. The province had only recently emerged from a lockdown.  Dalian reported 40 Covid infection cases, all asymptomatic, one day. The next day the government locked down the city of seven million people and suspended all public transportation. Officials have been instructed to stop infections by “killing chickens with a knife for slaughtering cows,” using a Chinese idiom. Overkill was desired and overkill is the norm. The list goes on. 

For many Chinese, the pandemic has stirred a spectrum of emotions from anger to frustration to grief. However the first word many people reach is helplessness. In the  citywide lockdown in Shanghai this spring, many residents had no food left in their fridge. Yet when they sought help on the government’s social media account, they noticed that officials had vowed to “make every possible endeavour” to address food shortages. Government assistance didn’t show up until four weeks later in many cases. When dozens of residents protested against the police and Covid control workers who installed chain-link fences around neighbourhood apartments. They were just ignored or taken away to quarantine centres. Some videos shared online showed what appeared to be guards or police officers clad in white hazmat suits carrying guns and riot shields . The weapons set off confrontations, leading to exasperated people shouting: “Who are you pointing the guns at?” For many it was a  reminder of how the government had used the pandemic to tighten its grip on their private lives, telling them when they can leave their apartments, what kind of food they can buy and what hospitals they can enter. Some questions which are surfacing include “From anger to powerless to numb. When is this going to end?” “At first they refused to admit that it was here. Now they refuse to admit that it’s gone.” Bizarre. 


The Communist Party has however defended its policy, saying that relaxing the Covid restrictions could cause widespread infections in a country with limited medical resources and a large population of older people, among whom 15 percent are not fully vaccinated. Not to forget, ineffective and dodgy vaccines. Chinese people were led to believe horror stories in other countries when the pandemic was over for most in the world. Many Chinese still buy into the narrative and willingly act as foot soldiers in the party’s fight against the virus. No  matter how bizarre, absurd or illogical the rules appear, most people follow them without question.


China is currently facing its largest flare-up of Covid cases in a month, complicating its preparations for the 20 Party Congress.  Chinese authorities are under immense pressure to ensure that nothing disrupts the party congress. As Xi Jinping is expected to expand his authority and claim another term in power, provincial and local officials have vowed to stop the spread of the coronavirus from “spilling over” to Beijing. China’s pandemic strategy is a political campaign to show loyalty to Xi Jinping himself. This makes the local officials even more anxious because they all want to stay in the good graces of Xi Jinping.

If Kafka had been alive, he would have been happy that some where some time his words are coming true. All we have to wait for is Orwell’s animal farm to come alive post the 20 Party Congress. All the while, the big brother will be watching. 


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