The “zero covid” policy in China is causing massive protests against the restrictions in many places



Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping

Photo: AFP/SCANPIX

Valdis Bērziņš, “Latvijas Avīze”, JSC “Latvijas Mediji”



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Almost four years after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the draconian “zero covid” program introduced by President Xi Jinping has been in effect in China, which sparked mass protests in many parts of the country last week.

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Quarantine has been declared in several districts of the country and it is not known when it will end. Millions of families are effectively under house arrest for months at a time. Some experts question the scientific validity and effectiveness of quarantine.

Residents of Beijing, Shanghai and other cities have expressed their dissatisfaction with the official Covid policy by taking to the streets, attacking the police, chanting anti-government slogans and even calling for President Xi to step down.

Challenging President Xi and the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, which has ruled China for 73 years, could be considered sedition, punishable by a long prison sentence. As noted by the Western media, Communist Party censors actively follow the flow of information on social networks, trying to delete video evidence of clashes between citizens and the police and messages of support as soon as possible.

After the outbreak of the covid pandemic in 2019, the majority of the population accepted the strict restrictions imposed by the authorities to reduce the spread of the infection and the number of victims. Public consensus has eroded in recent weeks as central authorities threaten local officials with job losses and other sanctions if a Covid outbreak breaks out in the areas they govern.

Analysts note that such widespread demonstrations have not taken place in China since the introduction of quarantine this spring in Shanghai, home to more than 20 million people. Millions of townspeople lacked food, medical care and the economy was crippled, but at the Communist Party Congress in October, the secretary of the city’s party committee was named the party’s second-in-command as a supporter of its leader, Xi.

Since 1989, when the army brutally suppressed a student-led democracy movement in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, there has been an unwritten agreement between the ruling Communist Party and the ethnic Han Chinese majority middle class to accept authoritarian rule in exchange for a better quality of life.

As the party tries to impose its control at the expense of the economy, this agreement could fall apart, creating political instability, the Associated Press agency notes. But at the Communist Party Congress, its leader Xi Jinping was confirmed for a third five-year term and managed to get his supporters appointed to the party’s seven-member Politburo.

Two potential rivals were sent into retirement.

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Experts note that China is now the only major power still trying to contain the spread of the virus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.

The head of the World Health Organization has admitted that the “zero covid” policy is not sustainable. Beijing has dismissed his remarks as irresponsible, but the Chinese public’s willingness to accept restrictions is waning.

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