China zero-Covid policy: How did it all go so wrong for Xi Jinping?

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s While in China report, a three-times-a-week update that examines what you need to know about the country’s rise and impact. to the world. Sign up here.

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2022 will be a very successful year for China and its leader Xi Jinping, as he begins his second decade in power with a promise to get the country back on its feet.

However, China has had a tougher year under Xi as it has backtracked on its anti-Covid policy – from months of intense economic stimulus that has crippled the economy and provoked the despondency of the former people, to the wholesale abandonment that was so sudden that it left the health system weak. to deal with the explosion of cases.

The chaos and uncertainty is a stark contrast to the start of the year, when Beijing demonstrated the success of its Covid containment efforts by keeping the coronavirus at bay for the most part since the Winter Olympics.

Over the course of a year, Xi’s pandemic policy has turned from a source of power for the ruling Communist Party into a major crisis that threatens to derail him.

As a previous wave of infections – and diseases – hit the country, many asked why after the great slaughter under the non-Covid and the long wait to reopen again, the government released the virus into the population with little warning and preparation. .

As 2022 draws to a close, CNN looks back at the year’s five key issues for China’s non-Covid policy.

Competitions for China’s non-Covid strategy were very successful.

In its sealed seal, the Olympic bubble is fully controlled, face masks everywhere, endless spraying of disinfectant and daily tests are paid for. Infected visitors who arrive in the country will be quickly identified with their cases, and the Winter Olympics can run free from Covid despite the fact that the Omicron is raging around the world.

The success added to the party’s claims that its political system is better than those of Western democracies in handling the pandemic – a message that Xi has driven home as he prepares for the third part of power.

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It also boosted China’s confidence that its well-rounded non-Covid playbook of lockdowns, quarantines, mass testing and contact tracing can create an effective barrier to Omicron’s highly transmissible and widespread spread. Ahead of the Games, these efforts took place in January to disrupt the country’s first Omicron outbreak in Tianjin, a port city near Beijing.

Beijing held the Winter Olympcis mostly without Covid in a highly regulated bubble.

But it didn’t take long for Omicron to slip through the cracks of non-Covid. As of mid-March, China is battling its worst Covid outbreak since the first wave of the pandemic, reporting thousands of new cases each day, from north of Jilin province to Guangdong in the south.

The Shanghai financial office soon became the center. Local officials initially denied that a citywide lockdown was necessary, but one was issued after the city reported 3,500 daily deaths.

The two-month lockdown will be a clear indication of the economic and social costs of not being Covid-19. In the country’s largest and most beautiful city, residents have suffered from food shortages, lack of emergency health care, spartan housing and the destruction of their homes. The draconian measures provoked wave after wave of outcry, seriously eroding public trust in the Shanghai government.

The lockdown also crippled the economy. China’s GDP shrank 2.6% in the three months ending in June, as youth unemployment reached nearly 20%.

But the costly lockout has not forced China to move away from its zero-carriage path. However, officials said it was a victory in the war against Covid. Some local governments have come and learned that disease must be prevented at all costs, before outbreaks occur.

Covid workers evacuated a residential community under lockdown in Shanghai in April.

As the national team’s big meeting approaches, the pressure only builds.

Because he tied it to no-Covid, Xi caught the trap he made. He couldn’t move on from that, and the severity of the disease and the diseases would seriously affect his status before he could secure his third term in the conference.

So, instead of vaccinating the elderly and strengthening the capacity of the ICU, the authorities have wasted the next few months building more isolation facilities and stopping mass testing. preventing more than 300 million people at one time.

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But even the strongest measures could not stop the spread of Omicron. In October, China is again reporting thousands of daily deaths. In the midst of much public dismay, the People’s Daily, the party’s main mouthpiece, said that non-Covid is “real” and the “best choice” of the country.

At the opening of the conference, Xi reaffirmed his Covid policy, saying that “people and their lives are important above all else.” He scored a major political victory, securing a third term and winning over party leaders and allies – including those committed to his Covid policies.

Officials took the initiative and are more motivated to implement non-Covid, giving up hope that the country will open up after the event.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will emerge from the Twentieth Party Congress with stronger momentum.

The tighter the restrictions, the more suffering and accidents caused by the endless shutdowns.

Migrant workers abandoned a shuttered Foxconn factory, walking for miles to escape an outbreak at China’s largest iPhone assembly site. A 3-year-old boy died of air poisoning in a closet after he was denied immediate access to the hospital. A 4-month-old girl died in a hotel quarantine after 12 hours of intensive care.

Then, in late November, a house went up in flames in the western city of Urumqi at the end of months of simmering public anger. Many believed that the blockade prevented recovery efforts, despite the opposition of the authorities.

Protests broke out across the country, on a scale not seen in decades. On university campuses and on city streets, crowds gathered to call for an end to Covid testing and lockdowns, with some protesting the ban and calling for more political power.

In Shanghai, protesters also called for Xi to step down – an act of political defiance against the country’s most powerful and authoritarian leader in decades.

Demonstrations across the country pose an unprecedented challenge to Xi. At that time, Omicron was out of control, with the country recording a daily record of more than 40,000 deaths, the economic crisis was severe, and local governments lacked funds to pay the big lock bills.

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Protesters will march through the streets of Beijing to call for an end to non-Covid on November 28.

In an effort to appease the protesters, some cities began to loosen restrictions.

Then, on December 7, the central government announced a change of course, changing the closures, testing and allowing residents to leave home – and leave the non-Covid .

Government media and health officials have shifted from preaching the danger of the virus to minimizing its threat.

While the easing of restrictions has been long-awaited for many, the suddenness and uncertainty of it has left people unprepared and left to fend for themselves.

Cold and flu medicines – banned from sale under non-Covid – are still sold in pharmacies and online shopping sites. Long lines have formed outside fever clinics and hospital emergency rooms filled with patients, many of them elderly. Mortuaries are struggling to keep up with the influx of bodies.

Covid patients lie in a hospital room in the city of Chongqing as they run out of space.

Amidst the uproar, the government has stopped reporting most of the country’s Covid deaths and has narrowed its criteria for counting Covid deaths in a way that had been warned by the Health Authority of the The world “really despises the truly dead.”

While such a move has anticipated public panic, it has also been hard to lose politically.

For nearly three years, China’s low Covid case and death rate compared to countries like the United States has served as a symbol of the party’s power and influence.

Now, the true scale of the outbreak and the deaths will seriously undermine the government’s commitment to years of pain relief as necessary to keep people alive.

Some studies suggest that a sudden and uneven reopening like China’s reopening could lead to close to a million deaths – almost as much as the US’s Covid-19 death toll.

As China enters the third – and darkest – winter of the epidemic, the non-Covid has died, but the fallout from its disease will affect the country next year.


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