China’s top leadership reiterates unswerving implementation of Zero COVID policy despite its inability to suppress new outbreaks

China’s new top leadership reaffirmed Beijing’s “dynamic-zero” COVID-19 policy on Thursday and said China’s epidemic prevention measures must not be relaxed. There looks no end in sight for China’s zero COVID policy which is under severe strain as harsh lockdowns and constant testing is unable to suppress the new outbreaks. China’s ruling party’s newly formed apex decision-making body led by General Secretary Xi Jinping at its first meeting on Thursday decided to “unswervingly” implement the policy of “dynamic clearing” of the cases which means snap lockdowns and mass testing are going to continue which causes huge disruption and uncertainty to social and economic life.

The meeting also decided to continue to “unswervingly” implement the policy of preventing imported COVID-19 cases which means China is not going to relax its COVID related restrictions for international travel in near future.
China is the last major economy following the Zero COVID policy of rooting out the virus as new outbreaks emerge, imposing snap lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines despite the widespread disruption to businesses and international supply chains.

Covid infections have been rising sharply across China despite increasingly stringent controls, amid growing public discontent and doubts about whether the zero-Covid approach will work against fast, stealthy Omicron variants. China’s zero covid policy is struggling with the biggest wave of locally transmitted cases in six months, with nearly 9,000 infections reported Thursday.

In the hard-hit southern metropolis of Guangzhou, home to about 19 million people, cases hit more than 2,000 for a third straight day and officials have launched mass testing and urged the residents to work from home. There are fears of a Shanghai-type city-wide lockdown which paralysed China’s financial hub for two months earlier this year.

On Thursday, Taiwan-based Foxconn said it expected smartphone revenue to fall this quarter as its massive Zhengzhou factory, which makes Apple iPhones has been hit hard from the COVID lockdown in Henan. This month, Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility was rocked by discontent over stringent COVID measures, with many of its roughly 200,000 workers fleeing the site.

The biennial Beijing auto show – China’s biggest car show has been cancelled this year due to Beijing’s surge in cases. Ninety-five new infections were reported Thursday in Beijing, where schools have been closed in the downtown district of Chaoyang since Monday. Some companies have asked staff to work from home temporarily.

During the meeting, party leaders urged local officials not to “adopt a one-size-fits-all” strategy for pandemic prevention and rectify any extra “layers” of measures. Overzealous implementation of lockdowns by local authorities has often been painful leading to food shortages, delayed emergency medical care, and even deaths in lockdown in addition to resulting economic disruptions.

Last week, authorities issued a rare apology after a three-year-old boy died of carbon monoxide poisoning when medical care was delayed because of a lockdown. Last Saturday, National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng accepted the mismanagement during the lockdowns but said that China would “unswervingly” stick to zero-Covid.

Reporting about the meeting, State media said China is a country with a large population, a large number of vulnerable people, uneven regional development, insufficient total medical resources, and outbreaks are still affecting some areas. Affected by the mutation of the virus and climatic factors in winter and spring, the scope and scale of the spread of the epidemic are likely to further expand, and the prevention and control situation is still grim, it said as discussed at the meeting.

It also said, “We must do a good job in vaccinating key populations and building a strong barrier for epidemic prevention and control.” Lower vaccination rate among Chinese elderly population is another constant worry for authorities who fear that any relaxation may lead to large number of deaths in this vulnerable group.

The top leadership also said that “We should vigorously promote the research and development of vaccines and drugs to improve their effectiveness and pertinence.” Chinese vaccines which are based on traditional technology, are less effective as compared to the western mRNA vaccines but China has not allowed any western vaccines in the country, apparently to protect the domestic manufacturers. So far, China does not have any homegrown mRNA vaccine.

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