China leans into zero-COVID strategy before Olympics with lockdowns, tight 'bubble'

Sudden lockdowns that trap whole neighborhoods in their homes. A testing regimen that requires millions to get swabbed in a single weekend. And a bizarre request for Hong Kong pet lovers to turn in their hamsters after a mini-outbreak at a pet store.

[vc_row][vc_column][us_carousel post_type="ids" ids="260184, 260250, 107361" orderby="post__in" items_quantity="3" items_layout="11024" columns="3" items_gap="5px" overriding_link="post" breakpoint_1_cols="4" breakpoint_2_cols="3" breakpoint_3_cols="2"][/vc_column][/vc_row]
{ "slotId": "7483666091", "unitType": "in-article", "pubId": "pub-9300059770542025" }

Bucking the approach in much of the rest of the world, China is deploying a “zero-COVID ” approach to the pandemic that reflects Beijing’s authoritarian instincts but may be unsustainable.

Ordinary citizens — and entire megacities — suffer from the hardships of constant virus surveillance and quarantining, while scientists wonder if the Chinese will have enough natural immunity and antibodies from domestic vaccines to keep up with variants that have repeatedly spun off from the coronavirus discovered in Wuhan two years ago.

While Europe and the U.S. have seen far higher reported death totals than China, Western nations have learned hard lessons about living with the virus as nations consider a pivot to an endemic phase in which COVID-19, which doesn’t appear to be going away, is managed as another respiratory disease.

The draconian policy is being put under a global microscope as its Communist leaders prepare to stage the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing starting Friday and other cities around the country while trying to prevent any major outbreaks of the highly contagious omicron variant.

“The zero COVID policy has never made sense and the Chinese clinging to it, in the midst of omicron, will be futile,”  said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Zero-COVID is not a sustainable approach to a virus that was always destined for endemicity and could potentially be dangerous as it may have left a zero-COVID country’s population with little immunity and no ability to risk-calculate.”

[vc_row height="auto" width="full" css="%7B%22default%22%3A%7B%22margin-left%22%3A%220%22%2C%22margin-top%22%3A%220%22%2C%22margin-bottom%22%3A%220%22%2C%22margin-right%22%3A%220%22%2C%22padding-left%22%3A%220%22%2C%22padding-top%22%3A%220%22%2C%22padding-bottom%22%3A%220%22%2C%22padding-right%22%3A%220%22%7D%7D"][vc_column][us_page_block id="48000"][/vc_column][/vc_row]

However, he said, “it is not surprising that such a policy is still in place in an authoritarian communist country in which the population is used to such measures.”

Beijing is shutting down housing complexes as omicron pops up in greater numbers on the cusp of the Olympics, while athletes, workers and journalists will be completely cut off from the local population for the two-week extravaganza.

Authorities detected over 20 cases over the weekend, bringing the total infections from its latest outbreak to over 100, according to the South China Morning Post.

Residents within housing compounds in the Fengtai and Anzhenli neighborhoods of the Chaoyang district of Beijing are not allowed to leave their homes and will be tested daily after the recent uptick in local cases.

The Xiong’an New Area, home to 1.2 million people southwest of Beijing, was quietly locked down a few days ago, raising eyebrows about the extent authorities will go to try and stiff-arm the virus.

Reported case totals would be enviable elsewhere in the world. But China’s government has shown no tolerance for any cases since the start of the pandemic, imposing the first set of lockdowns on Wuhan in January 2020 and sticking to the model as other countries used lighter economic restrictions or moved on to hoping vaccines, treatments and masking kept the virus in check.

Earlier this month, a woman identified as Ms. Wang posted on the Chinese social media giant WeChat that she went on a blind date and got stuck at the man’s house because his community in Zhengzhou went into a sudden lockdown. It was unclear how many days she spent there, but he was reportedly a good cook.

Other accounts have been heart-wrenching, including videos that show children entering isolation at hospitals without their parents.

Xian, a city of 13 million known for its ancient Terracotta Army sculptures, recently started to lift strict COVID-19 restrictions that were in place for three weeks.

An account on the Chinese social media platform Weibo reported on a pregnant woman who miscarried outside a hospital after she was refused entry because she didn’t present a virus test, generating outrage over the severe restrictions. Officials apologized for negligence at the hospital and blamed an “insufficient” emergency plan for triaging patients, according to NBC News.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, recently allowed pet shops to begin selling hamsters and other small animals after a campaign to cull over 2,000 of the animals because of a small outbreak of the virus at one shop, prompting outrage and offers from outsiders to adopt the pets.

“The reporting from China is very limited, but you get these fragmentary reports [that] the population is getting restive and very concerned,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University. “How long can they sustain this, not only from a public health perspective but from a social, political and economic perspective? They’re hanging in so far.”

Vaccine questions

China has administered 1.27 billion doses of its home-developed vaccines, resulting in 85% of the population becoming fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, an online tracker. But studies suggest Sinovac, a prominent Chinese vaccine that uses an inactivated virus, is not very effective against omicron, raising questions about the country’s ability to stiff-arm the fast-moving variant for posterity.

Former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC this month Chinese authorities were playing a futile game of “Whakc-a-Mole” in trying to snuff out and contain even the smallest outbreaks. Unlike in other major countries, China’s population isn’t building up the natural defenses needed to curb COVID-19 in the long run.

“Outside of Wuhan, the prevalence is very low so there is not a lot of immunity in the population,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “And they’ve deployed vaccines that have been far less effective against omicron.”

Beijing’s most pressing priority is holding a virus-free Olympics, which will be held in a closed-off system that cuts off athletes, workers and journalists from the rest of the city.

The process starts at the airport and includes high-speed rail to get participants to venues. In short, no one outside the bubble gets in and no one inside the bubble can exit.

The South China Morning Post said organizers detected 37 new infections among athletes at the airport or the Olympics’ home base, or “bubble,” over the weekend, bringing the total to 176 since January 23 and raising questions about whether the closed system will work, or if locals will be protected but not those inside the bubble.

Beijing limited tickets to domestic spectators and, in January, further restricted audiences to those who were invited to be on-site. In one sign of the drastic measures, authorities told locals not to help anyone who gets in a car accident within Olympics-only lanes of highways.

Athletes will be tested daily with highly sensitive PCR tests, which are sensitive and can detect remnants of the virus after a person is no longer infectious, raising questions about whether some competitors will be frozen out of the competition for no good reason.

In an extension of the stifling atmosphere, authorities told foreign athletes not to protest its treatment of ethnic minorities. Officials recently said athletes who protest could be “subject to certain punishment,” raising alarm.

Asked about potential threats, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday: “I think we spoke to this last summer and conveyed a support for freedom of speech for individuals.”

The Biden administration has announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games, allowing American athletes to compete but sending no official government representatives to watch them. A handful of other countries, including Britain, Canada and Australia have followed suit.

China’s nationalistic state media, meanwhile, argue that criticism of its approach to the Olympics and virus control reflects a “sour grapes” mentality in the West, which has struggled with far high death totals despite the virus first emerging in China.

“Slander against China’s dynamic zero-COVID policy from some countries in the West, especially the U.S., is unconvincing,” a Global Times opinion piece said Monday. “In the face of the pandemic, some countries in the West have already laid down arms, and are unqualified in assigning blame and pointing fingers at China regarding China’s rational anti-epidemic efforts, which actually have been proven to be more effective in curbing the spread of the virus.”

Following the Olympics, the Chinese authorities will have to consider how and when to relax strict border controls and limits on movement throughout the country, particularly if the virus finds a way to attack cities that haven’t had much prior infection.

“I guess that’s the question — could there be in China waves of infection that come later than the rest of the world simply because they’ve been delayed and this virus will not be denied?” Dr. Schaffner said. “The impact will be not only on the Chinese population but the rest of the world because they could be variant generators.”

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

Prepare Now Before its too Late

Discover where products are available & compare prices

Trudeau on trucker protest: 'We are not intimidated'
Secretary of the Navy Del Toro going into quarantine after testing positive for COVID

{ "slotId": "6776584505", "unitType": "responsive", "pubId": "pub-9300059770542025", "resize": "auto" }
You might also like
{ "slotId": "8544127595", "unitType": "responsive", "pubId": "pub-9300059770542025", "resize": "auto" }