What a China-style Zero Covid Strategy Would Really Mean
A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written to us deeply concerned about the adulation and copying of China’s handling of the coronavirus by Western Governments. He should know. He has lived in China on and off since 2002 and owns a home and company there. While he has been shut out of the country since the start of the crisis, he is frequently in touch with people there and has a good idea what it is like right now.
Some politicians and journalists like to hold China up as a success story of the handling of the coronavirus crisis. They point to its low reported deaths, its almost non-existent cases and the impression that life is seemingly back to normal.
That is an incomplete picture. Life in China is not normal and the fight against Covid is not over by a long way.
The reality is that life in China has changed dramatically since the start of the coronavirus crisis, in three very significant ways.
1. Surveillance. Prior to the crisis, the population could move around freely without restriction. Now, you cannot enter most major public places like a station, an airport, a mall or any government building, without scanning a tracking app on your phone that clears you for entry with a green smiley face. Most residential compounds also require scanning to enter. So after you leave your home, you need to pass a scan to come back in.
This surveillance has been added to the financial surveillance that has been in place for the last few years. Every money transaction takes place with one of the two giant payment platforms, WePay or Alipay, and is linked to your ID number which the government tracks.
So the surveillance of the population is now total and absolute. The government knows everything that everyone is doing.
2. Face masks. Contrary to beliefs in the west, prior to the coronavirus crisis, face masks were virtually non-existent. The few people that did wear them might have done so on bad pollution days and even then it would have been a rare sight. Masks are now ubiquitous. There is supposedly no coronavirus in China but you need to wear a mask in airports, stations, malls, large public gatherings, taxis and all government buildings.
3. Closed borders. China has for all intents and purposes shut its borders and closed itself from the world indefinitely. Permits to enter China are hard to obtain. For those who obtain one, on arrival they must pass a quarantine of three weeks in isolation in a government assigned hotel room.
Like every nation that has opted for a Zero Covid approach, China’s fight against Covid isn’t over by reaching zero cases. With coronavirus continuing to spread to hundreds of millions around the world, China’s fight to keep the virus away is ongoing, relentless and, in the absence of a vaccine that provides 100% immunity, permanent.
Even with closed borders, strict entry protocols and the most far-reaching surveillance on the planet, outbreaks occur from time to time, at which point entire cities are severely locked down, and their entire populations forced to pass a test.
So when politicians fantasise about Zero Covid and try to promote it pointing to China’s success, they should be clear, honest and open about what it would really mean.
It would mean closing borders indefinitely, putting in place a system of surveillance of the population and executing severe targeted lockdowns and compulsory testing at the first sign of an infection in the community. It would also probably mean on-going wearing of masks in numerous settings like public transport or any large gatherings of crowds.
Zero Covid is not a strategy for eliminating Covid: it is a plan to reorganise society permanently in the image created by the Chinese Communist Party.
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