Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022 08:45 [IST]
Last Update: Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022 03:10 [IST]
Rare protests broke out across China over the weekend as groups of people vented their frustration over the zero-COVID policy. The unrest came as infections surged, prompting more local COVID controls, while a central government policy change earlier this month had raised hopes of a gradual easing. Nearly three years of controls have dragged down the economy. The latest demonstrations — unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago — began after 10 people were killed in a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the far-western region of Xinjiang, that many of the protesters blame on protracted COVID-19 lockdowns. The deaths have become a lightning rod for frustrations over Beijing’s dogged commitment to zero-COVID and its combination of strict lockdowns, mass testing and tracking that continues to impede people’s lives three years after the first cases of the then-unknown virus were detected in the central city of Wuhan.
China is buffeted by a new wave of COVID, attributed to new, more infectious Omicron variants, with the number of new daily cases at all-time highs. And these are just the reported numbers. The actual tally may be much higher, because almost 90% of the cases in the latest outbreak are asymptomatic. Also, there are doubts about the official figures from Beijing. China has stuck with Xi’s zero-COVID policy even as much of the world has lifted most restrictions. China earlier this month sought to make the curbs more targeted and less onerous, prompting speculation that it will soon begin moving towards full reopening, but a resurgence in cases has thwarted investor hopes for significant easing anytime soon. Many analysts say China is unlikely to begin significant reopening before March or April at the earliest, and experts warn that China needs to ramp up its vaccination efforts as well.
For India and the world, there are lessons from China - the pandemic can resurface with more transmissible variants, and booster doses are imperative to contain their impact. Every country should be aware of new variants. The virus is evolving, making it tougher to contain its spread. China needs to step up vaccination of its elderly. In fact, some studies in China show that a third booster dose significantly neutralizes the COVID threat. China still lags behind in booster shots, and so does India and many other parts of the world.
The new wave comes at a time when China's economy is slowing down, and localized lockdowns threaten it further. Its zero-covid policy had arrested the spread of covid in the past, but it remains to be seen how effective this approach will be this time. There is also greater local resistance, as small businesses bear the brunt of repeated lockdowns. China claims to have eradicated extreme poverty, but its zero-covid policy may impoverish many. The government is already talking about a more "targeted" approach with selective lockdowns. Meanwhile, if the outbreak persists, it could aggravate supply chain disruptions in the global economy.
As the global economy strives to recover from the pandemic, the China outbreak serves as a reminder that the threat is still alive. Newer variants may be more resistant to vaccines and spread faster. The hunt for more effective vaccines that can prevent infections, instead of just reducing the severity of infections, will have to continue.