Nigel's Eyes

20221212 China and zero covid.

There are many comments in many places from many people about China's decision to reduce the demands placed on its people as a result of the Zero-Covid policy.

Many of those comments say that the reduction is due to protests, which are on a scale unprecedented in China since the Cultural Revolution.

I accept that these may have some influence but I very much doubt that they are the cause of the policy changes.

First, rapid policy changes in China only happen when the government thinks that there is a threat that needs to be managed with urgency. Relaxing policies is always a slow process. It's easy to make more than 1,000 million people stay off the streets; it's almost impossible to control them once they are free to go and do as they please. Sudden relaxation results in people testing the new limits. Even a small percentage of the population is a lot of people.

Secondly, all authoritarian governments are reluctant to admit to mistakes. In non-authoritarian countries, if governments do admit to it, they are weakened by those who berate them for making a U-Turn. It is true that the zero-covid strategy has undermined faith in the government and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the economic - and social - price that citizens are bearing. But zero-covid is only an extension of what many countries did for several months, sometimes repeatedly. Like all countries, it more or less worked for a while when CoVId-19 was especially virulent and many people were ending up seriously ill. Now, China is seeing 30,000 cases per day. As a percentage of population, that's tiny but where it spreads, it spreads fast. In one residential block last week, there were two cases: the next day it was 20. The block was immediately sealed: but the lockdown was for only six days and within a couple of hours of each apartment being sealed, a week's food was delivered for the number of people locked in including fresh meat, seafood and vegetables.

My take is is that the Government, without saying so, is accepting that zero-covid isn't possible but that the incidence of the virus has now reduced to the point where it isn't a serious risk to public health. It has seen elsewhere the effect of home-quarantine for those that test positive and that economies, albeit stutteringly, are re-establishing themselves.

The protestors and those from overseas that are fomenting dissent are not the significant factor: things take their course and their time in China.

Has China been heavy-handed? Yes, sometimes excessively so, but is there really any cause for alarm with regard to the handling of CoVid-19? The answer is no. It's done what most other countries did but it had to do it at a scale that other countries with a large population did not even attempt, it did it centrally (with minor local variations) and it was able to do it because there is an infrastructure that is far from perfect but is nevertheless more effective than in many other countries.