China’s COVID storm

A makeshift hospital for COVID patients will be built in China’s southwestern megacity of Chongqing on Tuesday. Photo: CNS/AFP via Getty Images

A new COVID calamity hammers on China, with a flurry of infections prompting a return of lockdowns, including in some production areas supplying the West.

  • China reported a record number of infections this week, amid lockdowns and mass testing fueling unrest and clouding the country’s economic outlook. Schools in Beijing returned to online teaching.

Why it matters: In addition to the human misery for the world’s most populous country, the effects will be felt around the world, Axios China author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports from Taipei.

  • Supply chains are likely to be disrupted, driving up prices in an already shaky global economy.

Rare protests broke out today in China’s far western Xinjiang region. Crowd shouted at security-wearing guards after a deadly fire sparked anger over extended COVID lockdowns, That reports Reuters.

  • “Stop the lockdown!” shouted protesters in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, where an apartment fire killed 10 people.

What is going on: The moment of truth for China’s zero-COVID policy has finally arrived.

  • Or party leaders will have to plunge much of the country into draconian lockdowns, as we saw at the start of the pandemic – or decide it’s time to learn to live with COVID.
Epidemic control workers drive down an almost empty highway in China.
Epidemic controllers drive through a nearly empty street in Beijing’s central business district on Wednesday. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Reality check: Chinese doctors have warned Xi Jinping that the healthcare system is unprepared for the massive outbreak likely to follow the relaxation of strict anti-COVID measures. reports the Financial Times.

  • vaccines made in China, which do not use the mRNA technology used by many and produced by the West, are not as effective compared to those made in the US And China has worryingly low vaccination rates among the elderly.
  • But the number of cases in China is actually still very low for everywhere except China.

The big picture: “Zero COVID” restrictions have damaged the economy and undermined people’s trust in government.

  • That’s a grim face from the height of the pandemic. At the time, many Chinese felt that tight central control had protected them better than any other governance model in the world.
  • But it’s just that model which has plunged China into the current predicament. Xi linked his reputation and the party’s legitimacy to the success of “zero COVID”.

Between the lines: Chinese leaders made a huge, politically motivated mistake. They oppose the import of Western-made mRNA vaccines (including Pfizer and Moderna) for its citizens. These vaccines have only recently become available to foreigners.

  • That’s probably because of Beijing’s major vaccine diplomacy campaign: Chinese officials touted their own vaccines as the best and safest.
  • It was politically unpalatable to Admitting “defeat”, and enabling the Chinese to get more effective – but Western-made – jabs.

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