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In the last 24 hours, China has gone from protests to jubilation, a wave of optimism and hope has hit social media here. China is opening up large areas that had recently been locked down and Central Government issued clear instructions on how to manage Covid locally. This is great news but there are still good reasons to remain vigilant and this justifiable wave of optimism needs to be tinged with just a degree of caution.
Covid Dynamic Zero is not over, it’s changing; it’s being dynamic and changing to meet new conditions. Western media will call this a U-turn caused by the protests and there might be some truth in that, not because of any fear Western media perceives on the part of China’s government it’s because they’ve listened and acted in accordance with the people’s needs and demands.
At grassroots levels, there have been over-zealous interpretations of restrictions with some leading to unpleasant and even tragic results. A few people didn’t get food deliveries in a timely manner; some didn’t get the hospital treatment they needed; a dog was killed; these are definitely worrying but generally caused by minor functionary misunderstandings. In one tragic incident, people trapped within their building died in a fire. This matter is under investigation, if there was negligence it will be punished. From all these incidents, appropriate lessons have been learnt and, when you consider the number of people affected, it’s a wonder there haven’t been many, many more such incidents.
To be honest, I’m in awe of how China has responded. Most people don’t realise for example, that Shanghai and Australia share about the same population. Australia had many acts of overzealous interpretation of laws and many protests against restrictions. Wikipedia has entire pages dedicated to describing protests in the USA and other countries but only those incidents in China seem to make international headlines.
None of the issues in China were systemic or even state supported abuses of power. Leaders at the provincial, city, town and even village level didn’t over-react because they are afraid of losing their jobs. They knew, if they didn’t act fast and firmly in the face of an onslaught from a virus which is a lot more dangerous than Western media claims it is, they wouldn’t just lose jobs, they’d lose people.
If people died from their lack of action, they would have failed. This fear, for the most part has driven a strong and in some cases, over-zealous response to Covid.
There is no doubt that Covid Dynamic Zero has been hard on small businesses, hotels, restaurants, bars, in fact any business that relies on customers coming in, has suffered enormous losses, people were angry, frustrated and something needed to change; so, it did.
I’m confused about what’s going on outside of China more than what’s happening inside. The USA’s CDC released a report last month which described the devastating effects of Covid and, in particular Omicron. The CDC states that 40,000 people a day are diagnosed with Covid and up to 3,800 people a week will continue to die in America. The report admits that not all states are reporting information, so it’s likely to be even worse than their prediction.
In Australia, since the start of the pandemic, the Bureau of Statistics reports they’ve lost 13,021 people to Covid but the Health Department recently put out an alert that, at the end of November, there were still almost 12,000 new cases a day being reported and, since the beginning of ’22, there have been 12,454 deaths. Meaning that almost all of Australia’s deaths have occurred in the last 11 months and during the period when the most prevalent variant of Covid is Omicron.
Media headlines from countries as diverse as India, Canada and the UK all suggest Omicron is no more deadly than seasonal flu. Science however, disagrees and China continues to respond to Covid with the measures necessary to ensure that daily tolls will not escalate to the levels of Australia and the USA.
Covid is still a killer, it can kill indiscriminately but it kills more people with vulnerabilities and co-morbidities. It also has an undetermined ability to inflict a variety of long term illnesses through what’s come to be known as Long-Covid which, as the CDC comprehensively points out, that can last weeks or even months and, frighteningly, it’s impossible to know what longer-term effects there might be.
So, while change is welcome, continued vigilance is required.
What’s changed in China is, to all intents and purposes, very good for the people of China. Last month a 20-step plan was released. It was divided into four stages with several steps in each. A full explanation was given by CGTN.
Restrictions eased for inbound travellers with shorter quarantine times, this was the third change from the original 14 days to 10 and now 5 days plus 3 days home monitoring. Closed loop management was introduced to allow business and State leaders to enter the country and engage in meetings and then leave. Circuit breakers were removed so airlines could guarantee consistency and, hopefully, reduce prices.
While these changes were great, they didn’t affect the everyday person in the street. So, local arrangements were changed. As of yesterday, they changed again: Places which are deemed high risk will be restricted to just buildings or streets, not entire suburbs. This has already happened, near my own home in Zhongshan where a case was discovered just a few hundred metres from my apartment. In the past, this would have meant immediate lockdown for the area, including myself, and mass testing for all 3–4 million inhabitants. This is no longer considered necessary, close contacts no longer need to go to isolation, people with negative tests and no symptoms can isolate at home.
Covid is still a great risk, lessons learnt from mass testing, wide-ranging lockdowns and previous mistakes have helped drive improvements. Future needs will be met with more therapeutics and a push to vaccinate more of the vulnerable in society.
Confidence in our health and safety inside of China, was never lost but confidence in the future has returned. Less restrictions mean people can start to rebuild their lives and their businesses but vigilance must remain high and acceptance of those lesser restrictions must be accepted when they affect us so that the rebuilding can be done safely for everyone.