Zero-COVID policy, or how China found itself in a no-win situation

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What is currently happening in China could be called “groundhog day”. Every day, the people of China relive the onset of the pandemic, even though almost three years have passed since its outbreak. Entire cities, individual districts or housing estates, and even Disneyland are subject to isolation. It is enough to detect an infection (without getting sick) to implement preventive measures and close the space as large as the authorities decide. What’s worse – the lack of a uniform zero-COVID policy means that each province implements the restrictions announced by the government differently. “The situation is so volatile that I’m afraid to invite friends over to my house because they might close my block at dinner time, which means my friends will have to stay with me for another seven days,” Jie, a resident of Shanghai, ironically comments. People live in constant fear of whether and to what extent they will be isolated. The government claims that the zero-COVID strategy has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And the numbers prove it. The world’s most populous country has fewer than 5,300 deaths, compared to, say, India’s 530,000 with a similar population. However, China’s plan to completely eradicate covid has failed, and 2022 is by far the year with the most cases recorded despite the introduction of draconian lockdowns such as the one in Shanghai, which is considered to be stricter than the lockdown introduced in Wuhan in January 2020. Instead, they have a profound economic impact, reflected in one of the lowest growth rates since China opened up to the world. The end of 2022 economic growth set by the Chinese Communist Party at 5.5 percent. will not be achieved. According to an analysis by the Bloomberg agency, the growth of Chinese GDP at the end of the year will amount to 3.4%. There are also voices that sticking to the policy of completely eliminating the pandemic may cause China’s GDP to fall even below 3 percent. This is supported by statistics, according to which air traffic still carries only one third of the number of passengers before the pandemic. Economic uncertainty also weakens consumption. During the last Singles Day – the world’s largest shopping festival, which took place on November 11 – something unusual happened: e-commerce platforms did not publish sales results on an ongoing basis, as they did in previous years. According to a statement issued by the board of Alibaba (China’s largest online sales platform), due to the ongoing zero-COVID policy, the company’s profits fell by 96 percent. in the first half of the tax year (April-September). Some analysts lowered forecasts for China’s oil demand for the rest of the year after COVID-19 cases rose to near record levels, forcing authorities to reintroduce mobility restrictions and delaying the recovery of the world’s main oil importer. World markets are concerned about the rise in cases in Guangzhou, which is currently the epicenter of new cases. The southern metropolis is the production center of the country. The area is home to many factories spanning the electronics, automotive, telecommunications and metallurgy industries. Guangzhou referred to as the world’s manufacturing center. If the current spike in cases leads to a city-wide lockdown, disruptions to the global supply chain will surpass those of last year. Beijing has now ordered a five-day lockdown in Guangzhou’s most populous district, Baiyun. Currently, more than 40 Chinese cities are under restrictions. China’s troubles are spreading to markets around the world. After the announcement of the growing number of new cases, shares of US companies with significant exposure to China suffered, e.g. Tesla shares lost almost 7% on Monday. Experience shows that the arbitrary and ruthless imposition of policies has disastrous consequences for people’s well-being. The stubbornness in the zero-COVID policy has many similarities and seems to have the same effect as the one-child policy imposed on China in 1979. On the other hand, abrupt lifting of restrictions could end up with a tsunami of infected people and, according to statistics published in the journal “Nature Medicine” – 1.6 million deaths. Is China at its own request in an impossible situation?

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