It is the Start of Winter (立冬) and China is seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases across the country.
There currently are approximately 40,000 confirmed Covid cases in the mainland, with the biggest outbreaks taking place in Guangdong, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang.
At the same time, frustrations over strict lockdowns and excessive anti-epidemic measures have been building recently, and there has been a lot of anger over a lack of emergency medical care for people in isolation in, among others, Ruzhou, Lanzhou, and Hohhot.
On Monday, November 7, political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), who used to be the editor-in-chief of Global Times, commented on China’s ‘dynamic zero’ Covid policy. Hu does so more often – in September 2022 he also published a lengthy post about China’s epidemic prevention.
China’s zero Covid policy is all about the speedy detection of new cases, followed by a quick response to curb the spread of the virus immediately and bring the epidemic situation under control. Because it is an ongoing process, it is called ‘dynamic zero’ (动态清零), with cases being extinguished soon after they are detected and with the eventual goal of having zero new infections in society (社会面清零).
The former journalist Hu, whose posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinion, made a few noteworthy comments in his recent post.
Hu suggested that the strict lockdowns in some parts of China are just not sustainable and that cities should stop striving to reach complete elimination of Covid cases. Instead, he advocated for a more relaxed and local approach, but did point out that Chinese cities could perhaps get back to focusing on reaching “zero” cases in the summer of 2023 (“到了明年夏天，也许一些城市可以重新追求零感染”).
By adhering to a model where Chinese regions stay in complete control when it’s about the spread of the virus, China will have drastically fewer deaths than in the West and its ‘dynamic zero’ approach will be remembered as a historical, “world-renowned achievement,” according to Hu.
“If we can remain in overall control and can keep the number of deaths far lower than in the West (..) then our epidemic prevention will benefit all 1.4 billion Chinese people, and will shine throughout history!”
Early on in his post, Hu Xijin suggests that the goal of ‘zero Covid’ is not actually to reach zero cases, but to keep the Covid outbreak in China under control:
“The ‘dynamic zero’ [policy] is not really about pursuing zero infections at all times, it is about continuing to keep the epidemic situation under control. Reaching absolutely zero infections should not be the goal of every city for this winter; by summer of next year, some cities can perhaps again pursue to have zero infections, but it is not realistic for this winter season. Thoroughly eliminating an especially active virus would exceed the basic level management capabilities in the majority of cities and the situation in Urumqi, Zhengzhou, and other cities shows that even if you carry out strict and lengthy lockdowns, the virus still continues to spread throughout the community.”
Hu Xijin suggests that Beijing is the number one city in China when it comes to efficiently implementing Covid measures and responding to new cases. Yet, even Beijing is now seeing a spike in new cases, so Hu’s reasoning is that if Beijing can’t even reach ‘zero’ Covid, then no other city can.
If ‘zero’ Covid is impossible, Hu implies, cities might as well be a bit more relaxed in their epidemic approach because the socio-economic cost of doing city-wide or district-wide lockdowns is so high, while the effects might be relatively minimal: Covid will still find a way. Hu writes:
“Beijing hasn’t carried out a large-scale lockdown, and the economic and social life in the city has been the most relaxed of the nation. Lockdowns have all been done locally [small-scale], and as everyone saw, Beijing held its first marathon in three years yesterday. That’s another step forwards. When there are outbreaks in other cities, especially when cases are scattered, and cities want to reach ‘zero Covid,’ they can only do that through the method of wide-scale or even total static management. But even if it is done like that, it does not mean they can realize a total elimination of Covid cases this winter while the social and economic costs of pursuing a ‘zero Covid’ goal are actually too high. The reality across the country is that people are less and less willing to cooperate with area-wide static management [lockdowns]. Regardless of whether you look at it from the standpoint of public opinion or from that of the financial burden, it is not sustainable to go on like that.”
Hu suggests that focusing on keeping infection rates low is more effective than maintaining a ‘zero’ Covid policy. By focusing on lower numbers instead of zero cases, cities can keep the burden on social and economic life low, while also avoiding an epidemic crisis. This basically is what ‘dynamic zero’ is all about.
In the conclusion of his post, Hu calls China’s epidemic prevention a “world-renowned success” that has saved the lives of millions of people over the past three years:
“Facing new circumstances, if we can maintain complete control, and can keep the number of deaths far lower than in the West while also safeguarding our economy and the order of social development, then our epidemic prevention – at every stage and in its entirety – and its achievements will benefit all 1.4 billion Chinese people, and will shine throughout history!“
Hu Xijin’s lengthy post and rose-colored outlook on the future of Covid zero received over 11,000 ‘likes’, but clearly did not impress all of his readers. Some replied: “So you’re basically just explaining the concept of the zero Covid policy again?” “Beijing the most relaxed?” others wondered.
“Stop wide-scale nucleic acid testing!” some said, with others replying: “We can’t continue to blindly follow the zero Covid policy.” “Listen to the voices of the people.”
Another commenter replied: “If we still want to be practical and realistic, we must admit that zero Covid is impossible, and we can’t pay such a high price to go on a mission that will never end. We should revise the general policy and insist on controlling the scale, protecting lives, and preventing hospitalization.”
Some who replied did agree with Hu’s words, writing: “A world-renowned success: it highlights the necessity of unswervingly insisting on ‘dynamic zero’!”
“What must we hold on to? The dynamic Zero Covid policy! Let the West lie flat, because the pandemic will have serious repercussions for them.”
Hu Xijin is not the only Chinese opinion maker who is describing the country’s zero Covid strategy as one that will go down in history as a glorious victory.
In late October, a short video went viral on Twitter showing a Chinese businessman giving a speech in which he claimed China would come out of the pandemic as the winner since the West would be brought to its knees because of the long-term impact of the pandemic. He explicitly mentioned long Covid and its supposed devastating effects on the labor force in the West.
A Chinese business consultant in a Ted-style talk justified zero-Covid policy by saying that in 10 years the West will be brought to its knees b/c long-Covid, which will decimate most of its labor force. pic.twitter.com/kQRTDYE813
— Yanzhong Huang (@YanzhongHuang) October 30, 2022
“I can only say, you’d have to be stupid if you want to give up [lie flat] now. We definitely cannot give up now. What must we hold on to? The dynamic Zero Covid policy! Understand? Let the West not do anything [lie flat], because the pandemic will have serious repercussions for them. So we definitely cannot let it go. So as an ordinary consumer, an ordinary citizen, we cannot forget national humiliation. The people inside the system are much smarter and more advanced than we are. You do not get the basic picture at all. (..) Just do what you’re told. We will win. If the epidemic continues another ten years, we don’t need to fight anymore, the whole world will have fallen.”
The man speaking is Gu Junhui (顾均辉), a finance, business, and strategic positioning expert with a very small following of 336 fans on his Weibo account.
As Gu’s video was widely shared on Twitter, it also started circulating on Chinese social media, where the majority of commenters dismissed Gu Junhui as another self-proclaimed ‘expert’ riding his high horse: “Nobody is listening to this idiot.”
Others ridiculed him for such a stance, writing: “So China can finally win if the West dies out?!” Some even suggested that Gu was a comedian instead of a finance expert.
Despite the online banter, Gu’s vision of China’s dynamic zero Covid future is a recurring one in China’s online media sphere, where other bloggers and authors also measure China’s success through U.S. failures.
Blogger/author Lu Xiaozhou (@卢晓周) wrote on Weibo on November 8 that the U.S. will be drained out because it chose to “lie flat” and live together with Covid-19, a virus that is unpredictable and which scientists around the world still have not figured out.
He says that China, on the other hand, is maintaining a balance between social stability and economic development through its dynamic zero Covid policy.
According to Lu, it’s simple: dynamic zero Covid is “right” whereas coexisting with the virus is “wrong.”
“The dynamic zero Covid policy comes at a high price, and when we give up dynamic zero, we will welcome a big epidemic wave. No matter if it happens this year, next year, in five years’ time, in ten years’ time, or in fifty years’ time, that moment will eventually come.”
During a press conference Saturday, Chinese health officials stated that China would “unswervingly” stick to its zero Covid policy. A hashtag about the topic (#坚持动态清零总方针不动摇#) received 220 million views on Weibo.
In October of this year, Chinese Party newspaper People’s Daily (人民日报) already published an article titled “Dynamic Zero Is Sustainable and Must Be Adhered To” (“动态清零”可持续而且必须坚持”) (read more).
It is clear that many commenters have a less rose-colored view of the future of ‘zero Covid’ than some of the opinion makers.
One Zhejiang-based doctor named Gong Xiaoming with over 4,6 million followers on Weibo (@龚晓明医生) had a more sober expectation of the future:
“I was prohibited from posting for three months last year after I commented on the epidemic, but I still want to speak my mind. The dynamic zero Covid policy comes at a high price and when we give up dynamic zero Covid, it means we will welcome a big epidemic wave. That moment in time, no matter if it happens this year, next year, in five years’ time, or in ten years’ time, or in fifty years’ time, it will eventually come. So the authorities in every region must ask themselves one question: when then moment comes, are we ready?”
Dr. Gong continues:
“The 1 per 1,000 mortality figure is backed by enough medical resources, and it will probably be higher when there is an instant influx of patients and we don’t have enough medical resources. What is even more important in relation to the mortality rate is: do we have enough intensive care beds? If we still have another year, then let us please use this precious time to strengthen the establishment of the ICUs at local hospitals, to set up respiratory intensive care units, and let use this time to purchase good mechanical ventilators and equipment, strengthen the staff team, especially the medical team, which is not something that can be done within a day or not even within a month. A month ago I paid a visit to a county town with 200,000 inhabitants and the county hospital did not have one single IC bed. This made me deeply concerned. Perhaps I’m overly anxious, and the government might already be taking these steps, but if regional leaders have the vision, please strengthen your local hospital’s intensive care medical departments. Our timeframe is getting shorter. In addition to the construction of ICU, there is also medication, vaccines and other issues that need to be considered.”
Dr. Gong uses graphs with data from Taiwan to support his story, showing an uptick of cases after Taiwan let go of its own ‘zero Covid’ policy in April of 2022.
Other voices also express similar visions on the future of dynamic zero in China, seeking for science-based prospects and realistic strategies: “I really hope that the authorities can provide timely and accurate information. The main point is not whether or not we should have the dynamic zero policy, but rather how we can go forward with dynamic zero on a scientific basis,” another popular blogger (@卢麒元) wrote.
Although Dr. Gong’s post was reposted hundreds of times, the comment section was not available at the time of writing (“抱歉，该内容暂时无法查看”).
Political commentator Hu Xijin should be able to appreciate Dr. Gong’s input. In September of this year, Hu argued that more Chinese experts should come forward with suggestions and views based on science in order for the online discourse to focus more on science and rationality rather than letting “discussions be dominated by loud voices on social media.”
-Photo by Xiangkun ZHU on Unsplash
-Photo by Yun XU on Unsplash
– Photo by Guido Hofmann on Unsplash
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