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China is shifting away from zero-Covid

Beijing is apparently relenting on its strict lockdowns, but Western commentators are still not happy

China is shifting away from its strict zero-Covid policy. That’s clear from recent developments in the country and some signals from state media, which Zichen Wang of the famed Pekingnology newsletter laid out in methodical detail. The short takeaway from this situation is that the public is no longer on board with the stringent epidemic controls employed by Beijing. And some Chinese state media outlets are now putting out stories to reduce fear of the virus.

You would think that the Western media would be pleased by this approach, having roundly criticized China for its strict controls. But we’re seeing the opposite, with some headlines now criticizing China for potentially endangering the public. 

For example, The Guardian published an opinion piece by Yu Jie on November 30 arguing that Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy couldn’t continue in the face of public frustration. But only four days later, the paper published another piece, criticizing the country’s apparent shift from zero-Covid. It argued, in essence, that China is not prepared for this and could endanger the public by reversing course. 

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The reason for criticism of China’s zero-Covid policies by corporate media in the West was quite apparent. Western governments capitulated to corporate interests during the pandemic and abandoned their populations to the virus, with countries like the United States seeing the highest death toll in the world. Corporate media want to create an alternate reality in which taking hard steps to protect the population is immoral. 

But the reasons why they’re now criticizing China for looking more like the West in terms of Covid policy are more cynical. They’re basically just slinging mud and hoping it sticks, no matter their angle or how many bodies pile up in their own morgues. It’s deeply sickening to see and shows that Beijing is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. 

It’s regrettable to see China, the last zero-Covid holdout in a world rattled by a once-in-a-century pandemic, capitulate to pressure to abandon its successful policies. Now, to be fair, I don’t live in China and have never had to deal with the headache of an unrelenting quarantine policy. But I think that not having Covid-19, a disease which is shown to damage the immune system substantially and can lead to long-term disability even in mild cases, circulate in society is a good thing, all things considered. 

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But even though China is relaxing its pandemic controls, I hope that its officials will take the opportunity to weigh civil liberties and public health, and come to an agreeable middle ground. One of the things it could do is ensure good air quality in buildings. Since we know that Covid-19 is airborne, adequate air quality (that is, ideally, CO2 levels at or below 750 parts per million) should be the top priority in mitigating the disease. Along with its opening up, Beijing could launch a generational public infrastructure campaign to retrofit buildings with air filters and ventilation. Instead of regulating individuals, it could regulate environments to halt the spread of the disease. This could, at the very least, reduce the odds of super-spreader events by installing relatively cheap air filters or windows in buildings.

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This policy could work quite well and there is data to back it up. We can take a look at a case study from Ireland, for example, which was conducted between March 2020 and May 2021, where half of the people who died from Covid-19 in that period were infected in fewer than 400 buildings, even though there are over 2.5 million buildings in the country. That is a mind-blowing figure that highlights that Covid-19 is indeed airborne and spreads by people inhaling infected air, which speaks to the importance of building ventilation – especially in public spaces and areas with high foot traffic.

Now, I am not a doctor, an epidemiologist, an immunologist or an aerosol physicist. I’m just an armchair commentator in this situation, with opinions informed by those of relevant experts on the subject. In principle, I think that any country is entitled to manage its own risks the way it sees fit in line with its values, weighing public opinion as well as public health concerns. And I think that most Western journalists would do well to remember this because it’s not our job to tell authorities how to craft public health policy. It’s primarily our job to inform the public about what’s going on and tell stories that speak truth to power – which is the exact opposite of what Westerners are doing in relation to China on a daily basis. 

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December 10, 2022 at 07:01AM
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