China’s Covid controls risk sparking crisis for country | Sunday Observer

China’s Covid controls risk sparking crisis for country

17 April, 2022

Hong Kong - Across China, cities are locking down their residents, supply lines are rupturing, and officials are scrambling to secure the movement of basic goods -- as its largest ever recorded outbreak of Covid-19 threatens to spiral into a national crisis of the Government’s own making.

At least 44 Chinese cities are under either a full or partial lockdown as authorities persist in trying to curb the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, according to a report from investment bank Nomura and CNN’s own reporting as of Thursday.

In Shanghai, the epicenter of the country’s latest outbreak, scenes once unimaginable for the hyper-modern financial capital have become part of the daily struggle for 25 million people. There, residents forbidden to leave the confines of their apartments or housing blocks for weeks have been desperate for food and freedom -- some seen in social media clips screaming out of their windows in frustration or clashing with hazmat-clad workers.

Even after the release of a tentative plan for Monday for the partial relaxation of measures, there appears to be no end in sight.

Shanghai's chaotic Covid lockdown puts other Chinese cities on edge Shanghai’s chaotic Covid lockdown puts other Chinese cities on edge

The current situation may mark the most significant challenge for the country -- and, arguably, for Chinese leader Xi Jinping -- since the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan over two years ago.

And for Xi, it comes at a particularly sensitive time, months before his expected step into a nearly unprecedented third term in power at the twice-a-decade Party Congress this fall.

The stakes are high for the leader -- China’s most powerful in decades -- as he has placed his personal stamp firmly on the “dynamic zero-Covid” objective driving these unbending control measures, and continues to urge the country down this path.

“We need to overcome paralysis in the face of risk, war-weariness, leaving things to chance and becoming relaxed,” state media reported Xi saying on Wednesday, calling on the nation to “strictly implement normalised prevention and control measures.”

In China, the local officials rolling out Covid-19 measures, like those in Shanghai, typically get blamed for mismanagement when there are problems -- a more acceptable target than the central Government and its policies, in the country’s tightly controlled political environment. And it’s not expected that a Covid crisis will imperil Xi’s likely third term.

But as the outbreak enters a critical phase -- with some cities already under lockdown for weeks and a top national health official warning on Tuesday that Shanghai’s outbreak had “not been effectively contained” -- China’s ruling Communist Party and its leader will have to grapple with the economic fallout and the growing possibility that, like the virus, anger against the Government seen in Shanghai could spread.

Nation disrupted

Xi has ordered local officials do all they can to stop the virus, while also minimising the “impact on economic and social development” -- an order that, counter-intuitively, is expected to push local officials to clamp down with harsh measures at the sign of a few cases, or even preemptively, in the wake of the crisis in Shanghai.

“Shanghai officials were trying to thread this needle they’ve been asked to thread, which is, ‘let’s maintain zero-Covid, while also not disrupting anybody’s life.’ - CNN