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China’s U-turn on zero-Covid strategy a question mark on President Xi’s competence

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(TibetanReview.net, Dec18’22) – For nearly three years, China’s leader Xi Jinping has staked his political legitimacy and prestige on zero-Covid, noted the edition.cnn.com Dec 16. Styling himself as the “commander-in-chief” of a “people’s war” against the virus, he lauded the hardline policy for “putting people and their lives first,” and held up its apparent success as proof of the superiority of China’s authoritarian system. Now, as his costly strategy gets dismantled in an abrupt U-turn following a week of nationwide protests against it amid the start of surge in cases, Xi has fallen noticeably silent.

What is more, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said Dec 16 that the explosion of Covid-19 cases in China these days is NOT due to the lifting of Xi’s draconian restrictions. In fact, it has said the strict policy of the last three years had already stopped working anyway.

“The explosion of cases in China is not due to the lifting of Covid restrictions,” the cbsnews.com Dec 16 quoted WHO’s head of emergency programs, Dr Mike Ryan, as saying.

“The explosion of cases in China had started long before any easing of the zero-Covid policy.”

The Chinee government knew, it, but did not bother to admit it, for this was a signature policy of President Xi and the state media kept justifying it amid repeated criticisms of its rationality and efficacy. The policy imposed untold hardship on citizens while putting a severe strain on the country’s economy.

The sudden U-turn by the ruling Communist Party just over a week ago hurled Beijing into chaos, with people unsure what the new rules were, or why they had been changed so dramatically, the report noted.

For three years, Chinese officials had drilled the message into people’s minds that Covid-19 was a killer. But now, as of nine days ago, the official message suddenly changed, telling people that, unless they’re really sick, they should just stay at home and get better, the report noted.

And the about-face in policy and rhetoric has been reinforced by upbeat state messaging, urging people to just get back to normal.

Marking almost total abandonment of the zero-Covid policy, which the government had previously reinforced repeatedly, China’s Covid-19 prevention czar Sun Chunlan has said on a visit to a Beijing hospital that the priority now was treatment, not case prevention and elimination.

As part of the sweeping changes, the government admitted that it had stopped counting asymptomatic cases and promised a new focus on vaccinating the vulnerable. This is because many elderly Chinese remain un- or undervaccinated.

Rare protests that erupted across China at the end of November, demanding an end to the rolling lockdowns and other restrictions of the zero-Covid policy, may have provided a convenient pretext, although not admitted, of ending the draconian control measures.

But grim economic data — and quite possibly knowledge of a looming infection tsunami — may have been clinchers in Beijing’s decision to pull the 180-degree turn, the report said.

Meanwhile, the surge in cases is seen as having only just begun to start.

A study partly funded by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has warned the country urgently needs to roll out vaccinations and anti-viral drugs if it’s going to avoid 1 million Covid deaths over the coming weeks and months, the report said.

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