China's President Xi Jingping, whilst speaking at an event, has praised China's response to the pandemic and hailed the zero-COVID policy. This double downing on zero-COVID policy comes at a time when Shanghai, a city of 25 million, continues to be under lockdown.
A pregnant woman who needed medical assistance was turned away from a hospital because she tested positive. Due to the stringent lockdown, almost no one is allowed to leave their home.
Residents of Shanghai have to wait, confined to their home, for the government to drop off meat and vegetables. Reports of food shortages and hunger are widespread. According to a political scientist at the University of Chicago, millions of people in Shanghai have to manage with just one meal a day.
The situation is so grim that people want to be arrested by the police in the hope that at-least when they are locked up they will have more food to eat. Even the police are struggling to feed themselves.
Elderly people in Shanghai are at most risk as they are more likely to live alone and are not so adept at using smartphones. However, it must be stressed that people of all age groups are suffering.
Protests are rare in China. It isn't like India, a perennially protesting population, where everyone is protesting about something almost all the time. A situation has to be putrid for the Chinese to even consider protesting. Under the communist party's regime, the cost of protesting is high. So when people in Shanghai, China's financial hub protest because they say they don't have enough food to eat, it isn't hyperbole.
One such protest occurred at a Shanghai Housing Complex. "We want to eat", chanted the people, trying to keep despair at bay. Video of this protest was taken down by the Chinese tech company Tencent.
The mental toll of this lockdown is too depressing to even think about. What many in Shanghai must feel is voiced by this man, consider watching this video. "Where is communism?", he asks.
Several videos depicting the suffering of ordinary people in Shanghai are doing the rounds on social media. There are too many of them and it isn't possible to include them all.
There are videos of a man in a hazmat costume bludgeoning a dog to death. The video is graphic and will not be included in this article but it can be easily accessed on social media platforms. The man in the hazmat costume beats the dog to death with a shovel.
Why was the dog beaten to death by this 'social worker'? Well, it is because the owner of the dog tested positive for COVID and was taken to a quarantine centre. The 'sin' he committed was this - he left his pet outside in the hope it would survive. Anyone who has dog as a pet is well aware that they don't do so well when they are left alone inside a room for a prolonged period of time.
The man who was quarantined probably had no idea when he would be allowed to return to his home, his judgment of leaving his pet dog outside was rational.
This policy of Chinese Communist Party also brings to light the role of doctors in an authoritarian regime. 'Do no harm', is the pole star of medical professionals but in a authoritarian regime, are they able to uphold this?
At this point, there is more than sufficient evidence to conclude that the policy of zero-COVID is more corroding to society than the disease itself.
Implications for rest of the world
The crisis is a problem not just for ordinary citizens in China but for the world as well. Shanghai is one of the biggest financial centres of the world. It also has the world's largest container port. Expect more strain on global supply chains as shipping delays get worse. Industry data indicates that the number of vessels waiting to be loaded or discharged has gone up sharply.
Around 40 Chinese companies have already been forced to suspend operations in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing, according to a report which relies on data from stock exchange filings. Operations of around 90 Taiwanese companies has been hampered as well.
Few days ago, the World Bank slashed China's growth forecast. The World Bank estimates that China's economy will grow by just 5 per cent. Last year's growth was 8.1 per cent.
Disruption to industry in Shanghai and Shanghai's neighbouring cities might be especially pronounced in electronics and automotives. Eson Precision, an affiliate of Foxconn, manufactures iPhones. They also supply components to Tesla. Tesla also has its largest factory in Shanghai, where it manufactures around 16,000 vehicles every week. It is highly unlikely that China's COVID strategy won't be discussed during upcoming earnings calls of American companies.
Why Xi Jingping continues to back this zero-COVID strategy despite the discontent it is leading to is puzzling. After all, stability is the primary goal of most regimes, especially authoritarian ones. There are many possibilities, incompetence, dogmatism and hubris being few of them. Another might be that there is a significant segment of population in China who don't mind that the 'uppity' people of Shanghai are suffering.
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