China is powering on with its zero-Covid policy as cases rise, more cities go into lockdown, and thousands are moved into special quarantine facilities. What does this mean for the people living there?
“Big day is starting. Today’s Shanghai. I just woke up. Good morning. Six o’clock, I just wake up. They’re calling our compound so just take a very quick sip of black tea and then that’s it.”Yolanda Vom Hagen
This is Yolanda Vom Hagen, a German photographer who has lived in Shanghai for over a decade. She recently appeared in this video on a YouTube channel run by Chinese state-affiliated media. In it she describes her experience of a restrictive lockdown in one of the biggest cities in the world.
China is currently reporting at least 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day. Millions have been told they cannot leave their homes, including more than 26 million people in Shanghai.
The people there have been under strict lockdown since the 28th of March.
Mass testing is being carried out to tackle the rising number of Covid cases and people who test positive are moved into special quarantine facilities.
“So they make sure that we have already prepared our QR code. So you can see on the other side there’s the people of other blocks going inside over there.
Every block is having their own round for testing. You can see that’s a station over there so it’s super efficiently made so that cross contamination is not happening between the blocks.”Yolanda Vom Hagen
But as you might expect, Yolanda’s video doesn’t tell the whole story.
“There have been desperate complaints of shortages of food, water and medicines… there’s ongoing outside, there’s no opening your doors. You do as you’re told.”BBC Newsnight
Clashes have taken place between residents and police.
[Clip: audio of clashes between police and citizens]
The BBC has reported that entire communities have been relocated to facilities more than 100 miles from Shanghai in an attempt to keep cases down.
“Hello, Mr. Yu.
I’m fed up. I’m out of medication and other things. I have nothing to eat. I’m feeling terrible.”SupChina
This is a phone call between an elderly man and a neighbourhood committee worker in Shanghai. In it the man pleads for help. He says he’s run out of medication and has nothing to eat. “I’m feeling terrible”, he says.
The worker says services are stretched and he’s unable to help.
[Clip: drone hovering over one of Shanghai’s residential areas]
This video, which emerged on Chinese social media, shows people in quarantine screaming from apartment windows and a drone telling them to “Control [their] soul’s desire for freedom”.
Some people are facing food and water shortages. One woman complained that the government had supplied two carrots, one rotten pumpkin and two ears of corn.
Videos like Yolanda’s appear to be one way Chinese state media is trying to combat claims that public services are struggling
“We are waiting for our call to go together to the test station. These are the volunteering aunties that are helping us to sort, come down, and getting the vegetables and being connected to the authorities.”Yolanda Vom Hagen
But the current outbreak, and the harsh measures imposed on those who test positive, have led to anger and frustration on Chinese social media platforms in a way that is rarely seen under a government known for censoring criticism of its policies.
So will China be able to continue with its Zero-Covid policy?
“Over the weekend… why these tough measures are in place.”Sky News
It’s difficult to know the exact number of coronavirus cases in China at the moment because official figures are reported by the Chinese Government. But at least 23 cities and 200 million people are under full or some form of lockdown.
There are also signs that the restrictions on people’s lives are causing a decline in economic activity. For much of the pandemic, China was able to keep cases low through travel restrictions and harsh measures.
However cases are continuing to rise despite the strict policy – more than tripling since the Shanghai lockdown came into effect due to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant. If China is unable to control the virus, it may be forced to abandon its Zero-Covid policy entirely.
Especially because it has such a low vaccination rate among the elderly.
“The over-80 vaccination rate for third dose is about 20% so it’s very low, much lower than Western countries and the vaccination campaign is slowing down dramatically.”BBC Newsnight
But for now the Chinese government is showing no signs of diverging from its zero-Covid strategy as President Xi Jinping has heavily tied his legacy and reputation on keeping China Covid free.
There are reports of panic buying in Beijing where cases are on the rise and health officials have ordered several neighbourhoods in the city to be locked down.
There are reports of panic buying in Beijing where cases are on the rise after its largest district with over 3.5 million residents began mass testing.
For hundreds of millions of people in China, the pandemic is far from over.
Today’s story was written by Ed Barnes and produced by Ella Hill.
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