Has China fallen into a Covid-zero trap?
From the beginning, China’s response to coronavirus has been to quash outbreaks with ultra-strict lockdowns. But has the Omicron variant left its leaders trapped in the wrong strategy?
Ever since the first Covid-19 outbreak was detected in Wuhan, China has countered the virus with incredibly harsh social measures designed to restrict interpersonal contact and eliminate opportunities for the disease to spread. Closed borders, mass testing and entire neighbourhoods and cities quarantined in response to a single case – that’s what it has taken to maintain China’s strict “Covid zero” policy. And it’s been successful: officially, China’s lost fewer than 5,000 people to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic – that’s fewer than the number of people in the US killed by the virus in the past week.
As our China affairs correspondent, Vincent Ni, tells Michael Safi, for Chinese leaders, Covid zero isn’t just a policy – it’s a major achievement for their authoritarian system of government. But with the mutation of the Omicron variant now causing shutdowns in cities across the country, Covid zero is presenting officials with a new dilemma: what’s the exit strategy?