Lockdowns and no end? In China, after the protests of the last few days, there are signs of relaxation of the corona policy. However, a turnaround is unlikely.
Munich/Beijing – In the past few days, there have been repeated protests in China against the country’s strict zero-Covid policy. There are now signs of a cautious relaxation of the corona measures. As the state news agency Xinhua reports, Vice Prime Minister Sun Chunlan spoke on Wednesday of “a new situation and new tasks in the prevention and control of the epidemic”. Speaking to the National Health Commission, Sun said the omicron variant of the coronavirus is less dangerous. She also referred to the “spread of vaccination and the experience gained in preventing and combating” the pandemic.
It remains to be seen whether the deputy prime minister’s comments actually represent a fundamental departure from previous policy. Because Sun also said in her speech that one must “thoroughly implement the spirit of the important instructions of Secretary-General Xi Jinping”. The zero-Covid policy is closely linked to China’s state and party leader; a reversal would severely damage Xi, who was confirmed in October for a historic third term.
Corona in China: Experts fear hundreds of thousands of deaths if restrictions are relaxed quickly
In addition, experts fear that easing would lead to increased infections – and that in turn would lead to tightening of the measures. China has been registering the highest number of corona cases since the pandemic began almost three years ago, and around 35,800 new cases were reported on Tuesday. The increase in numbers had recently led to many cities imposing additional corona measures, although easing had actually already been decided.
So far, China has reacted to corona outbreaks with lockdowns, forced quarantines and mass tests. This is to prevent the healthcare system from being overloaded and hundreds of thousands of people from dying. The government in Beijing sees older people in particular at risk because the vaccination rate is relatively low in this age group. According to figures from mid-November, only around two-thirds of people over 80 have been vaccinated twice, and only 40 percent have received a booster. The third vaccination is necessary in order to achieve a sufficient protective effect with the vaccines used in China.
Why doesn’t China vaccinate faster?
There have recently been reports that the vaccination rate should be increased with new campaigns, but concrete steps are not yet known. Many observers are puzzled as to why the Chinese government has not done anything to immunize people in the country for months. Vice Prime Minister Sun has now always announced that he wants to “increase the immunization of the entire population, especially the elderly”. Foreign mRNA vaccines are not permitted in the People’s Republic.
Thousands of people took to the streets in dozens of cities across China last weekend out of dissatisfaction with the Corona policy. The concrete trigger for the largest protests since the suppression of the democracy movement in 1989 was a house fire in the city of Ürümqi in north-west China, which killed ten people. Residents had reported that the extinguishing work had been hampered by corona barriers.
The government in Beijing reacted to the protests, which occasionally demanded an end to one-party rule, with arrests and massive censorship on social networks. Most recently, clashes between police and angry citizens were reported in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Tuesday evening. The day after, the local health authority announced that restrictions had been eased in all counties except for a few designated “high-risk” neighborhoods. People who don’t leave the house often should no longer have to be tested every day. The Haizhu district, which was shaken by the protests, went even further and declared that only employees in some sectors still had to show daily corona tests – for example in the medical sector, pharmacies or delivery drivers. The cities of Beijing and Shijiazhuang also announced easing of testing. (sh)
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