Restricted borders, constant digital tracking, and the possibility of mass testing and sudden lockdowns whenever a handful of cases showed up were all compromises for a relatively Covid-free life while the pandemic raged abroad.
According to social media posts, Shenzhen Technology Center posted videos online on Sunday showing residents protesting in a closed area after restrictions lasted several days longer than planned.
“You can’t do this – we need to eat and pay rent,” a man in the crowd of protesters can be heard frantically shouting at medical workers who were standing behind tall plastic barriers, according to a video posted online.
“Unblock! We demand that the lockdown be lifted!” shouted others in the second clip.
In another case, in the nearby city of Guangzhou earlier this month, thousands of people were seen on video footage trying to avoid the sudden lockdown. at a trade fair. Some jumped over fences to avoid being locked inside after at least one positive case was found.
Such scenes are largely unprecedented in China’s more than two years of fighting the virus. And while many still support the fight against Covid-19, these cases are not the only signs of changing attitudes as millions remain in lockdown and cases continue to rise. in the worst outbreak in China since early 2020.
Case against living with the virus
Extreme measures are being taken even though the number of Covid-19 victims in a highly vaccinated country has been limited so far.
The load this month exceeded 56,000 cases in 28 provinces. While it is not clear how many of these cases are severe, only two deaths have been reported since the start of the last outbreak. Earlier this month, when the number of cases stood at 29,000, officials said about 95% of them were mild or asymptomatic.
Some Chinese citizens now seem to believe that health measures are more burdensome than illness.
On the popular and heavily censored Chinese social media platform Weibo, the question of why China can’t relax its Covid-19 restrictions like other countries was the most popular hashtag on Wednesday, racking up more than 500 million views.
The top post is related to an interview given by the head of the National Health Commission’s Covid-19 expert group, which emphasizes that China must “strongly pursue its strategy to protect the vulnerable.”
The notoriety of such a conversation is itself a radical departure from on how issues have been handled in the past.
Now those conversations are playing out in the open as vast swathes of the country face significant restrictions on their daily lives due to the latest outbreak.
At least 25 million people in four cities are under lockdown in the northern provinces of Jilin and Hebei, and countless others have been placed under lockdown at the district or district level this month, including in wealthy first-tier cities Shanghai and Shenzhen. .
Measures take their toll
A prime example of the human cost of China’s strict measures was when a nurse on duty in Shanghai died of an asthma attack after she was reportedly turned away from several hospitals, including the Shanghai East Hospital where she worked.
In a statement Friday, the hospital said its emergency room was temporarily closed for Covid-19 disinfection when the nurse’s family took her there. Several outpatient departments and emergency departments in Shanghai have been closed due to infection with positive cases.
Wu Jinglei, director of the Shanghai Health Commission, expressed his condolences to the nurse’s family and vowed to reduce the disruption to normal medical care, especially emergency departments, while hospitals undergo disinfection.
Earlier this week, reports circulated on social media that Shanghai residents were unable to access non-COVID medical care or had inadequate access to supplies. They were marked Zhang, a well-known Shanghai specialist, called for resolving such issues “in the future.”
“Otherwise, the significance of the success of the fight against Covid-19 will be largely compromised,” Zhang, who heads the Infectious Disease Center of Shanghai Huashan Hospital of Fudan University, wrote on his verified Weibo account on Thursday. .
Shanghai is facing its worst outbreak yet, with 1,609 cases of Covid-19 reported on Thursday. And while authorities deny they plan to shut down the city out of 25 million people numerous residents tell CNN that an increasing number of neighborhoods are temporarily closed for mass testing – as part of a “sliding lockdown” strategy – and local authorities pledged on Wednesday to “further strengthen prevention and control measures.”
And even in a city with one of the best infrastructure in the country, social media complaints suggest that systems to provide residents with what they need are failing as lockdowns are extended without notice.
“How can I buy groceries? … I can’t buy medicine for my kids… how can we order it online when we can’t even make an appointment at the hospital?” wrote one social media user, saying that their area in Shanghai was closed for 15 days.
Another complained that she was out of stock after receiving government assurances that there was enough stock and no need to hoard.
“They said there was enough food…but they didn’t mention that there weren’t enough people to deliver it,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Shanghai health authorities responded to a question about how residents of the Jiading urban area can report problems buying groceries. Officials said they are doing “every effort” to secure supplies by supporting residents to use online platforms to get what they need or by arranging for bulk purchases and distribution. They also explained that in some areas, monitoring periods could be extended if positive cases are found, as screening would need to start over.
End of the game
As for those wondering when the zero-spread strategy for Covid will end, China’s health officials have been mixed.
When questioned at a press conference on Tuesday, government epidemiologist Liang Wangnian said China should “not hesitate” and stick to its plan while waiting for a series of events to occur: outbreaks abate abroad, the virus mutates to become less dangerous, and more effective treatments and vaccines must become available.
“In these circumstances, I believe that we will carefully assess the epidemic situation in China … and then take more adaptive measures to combat the disease,” he said.
But for those in China who are counting down the days until the lockdown is lifted, such responses may be disappointing.
As one social media user wrote on Weibo this week who expressed concern that the lockdown at his Shanghai compound could be permanently extended: “Have the people in charge really not looked into this issue carefully enough? The price paid by the people inside is infinite.”