Millions of people in Shanghai, China’s locked-down financial metropolis, have been anxiously seeking medical treatment and basic necessities such as food. Young children afflicted with Covid-19 were forcibly taken from their parents. And public outrage is growing, with no end in sight as China tightens its grip.
China has been battling its greatest Covid wave yet since March, with Shanghai currently being the epicenter. The city’s entire population of 25 million people is under lockdown, with national health care personnel and the Chinese military sent to help with the response.
More than 20,000 new cases were reported in China on Tuesday, significantly above the high of Wuhan in 2020, when the epidemic began.
Though this figure is still significantly lower than in many other nations, it represents a significant increase for China, which has implemented a comprehensive zero-Covid policy that includes border restrictions, mass testing, quarantines, and severe lockdowns.
As newer, extremely contagious Covid strains continue to spread across the population, the policy’s long-term viability is being called into doubt.
Cases began to rise in early March in a number of provinces across China, including Shandong in the east, Guangdong in the south, and Jilin in the northeast.
According to the National Health Commission, the virus had spread to 29 of China’s 31 provinces by the end of the month (NHC). Jilin and Shanghai, the two main hotspots, accounted for 90% of all cases reported in March.
In March, a number of cities with a combined population of more than 37 million people were placed under various levels of lockdown. By early April, several of the lockdowns had been lifted, leaving Shanghai as an exception, as officials fight to bring its cases under control.
Only two Covid fatalities have been officially documented thus far during this wave, both of which occurred in March in Jilin.
Experts and foreign watchers have worried as the outbreak has progressed if this wave, the more transmissible type, and China’s huge immunization effort may put zero-Covid to an end.
According to the NHC, around 78 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people had been properly vaccinated as of Friday.
Scientists and authorities had signaled that they were rethinking the policy before the epidemic, with one renowned epidemiologist posting on Weibo in early March that zero-Covid would “not remain unaltered forever.”
But that appears to be a long way off, with Chinese officials making it plain that the alternative — the virus spreading across the country and potentially overloading the health system — is the worse choice.
According to the state-run newspaper Global Times, Wu Zunyou, head epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Friday that China will “continue to emphasis on dynamic zero-Covid policy.” He noted that the relaxing of limitations and openness of borders observed in other nations might “create numerous difficulties,” including a “strain on” medical resources and an increase in mortality.
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said in Shanghai on Monday that achieving zero-Covid would need “a more committed mindset, more strong actions, and more effective cooperation.”