© Reuters. Elderly patients receive IV drip treatment at a clinic in a village in Leji district after strict measures to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were lifted in Jiang, China’s Sichuan province, on Dec. 29, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
By Martin Quinn Pollard and Eduardo Baptista
WUHAN/BEIJING (Reuters) – New Year’s Eve in China sparked online reflection, some critical, about a strict zero-covid policy.
The country has been in compliance for nearly three years and the impact of its sudden reversal this month.
The sudden shift to living with the virus has sparked a wave of infections across the country, a further drop in economic activity and international concern, with Britain and France the latest countries to impose restrictions on travelers from China.
Three years after the pandemic, China this month joined a world reopening to living with Covid, after unprecedented protests turned into a de facto referendum against President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy.
The protests were the strongest show of public protest in Xi’s decade-long presidency and coincided with strong growth figures for China’s $17 trillion economy.
On Saturday, people in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, expressed hope that the New Year would bring better luck.
Many in Wuhan have lamented how widespread the virus has become after lifting all epidemic restrictions, with one, Chen Mei, 45, saying she hopes her teenage daughter will be able to resume normal classes in 2023 at long last.
“It’s definitely not an effective way of learning when she can’t go to school and can only take classes online,” he said.
“Kids don’t have such good self-discipline. And then for us adults, sometimes we’re locked at home because of pandemic restrictions. It definitely had an impact.”
Thousands of users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo (NASDAQ: ) have criticized the removal of a viral video made by local outlet Netease News, which compiles real-life stories that have captivated Chinese people since 2022.
Many of the stories included in the video, which could not be viewed or shared on domestic social media platforms by Saturday, highlight the hardships ordinary Chinese face as a result of the strict COVID policy.
Weibo and Netease did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Weibo hashtag about the video garnered nearly 4 million hits before it disappeared from the site around noon on Saturday. Social media users have created new hashtags to gather comments.
“What a twisted world, you can sing the praises of fake but you can’t show the real life,” one user wrote, attaching a screenshot of a blank page displayed when searching for hashtags.
The disappearance of the videos and hashtags was seen by many as an act of censorship, as the Chinese government still sees the story surrounding its handling of the disease as a politically sensitive issue.
Overcrowded hospitals, death homes
A wave of new infections has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes across the country, with coffins outside crematoriums fueling public concern.
China, a country of 1.4 billion people, recorded one new Covid death on Friday, the same as the previous day – numbers that don’t match the experience of other countries that have reopened.
Airfinity, a UK-based health data company, said on Thursday that around 9,000 people in China die from Covid-19 every day. It said the total number of deaths in China since December 1 may have reached 100,000, with infections totaling 18.6 million.
At Wuhan’s central hospital, where former Covid whistleblower Li Wenliang worked and later died of the virus in early 2020, the number of patients on Saturday was down compared to the rush of the past few weeks, a worker wearing a hazmat-suit outside the hospital’s fever. the hospital told Reuters.
“This wave is almost over,” said the worker.
A pharmacist at a shop next to the hospital said that most of the people in the city have now been infected and recovered.
“It’s mainly the elderly who are getting sick now,” he said. “They have underlying conditions and can get breathing problems, lung infections or heart problems.”
New Year, New Challenges
Data factory activity on Saturday shrank for a third straight month in December and the sharpest pace in nearly three years, in the first sign of a toll on China’s giant manufacturing sector due to a shift in Covid policy.
In addition to the growing economic toll, rising infections following the lifting of restrictions have also fueled international concern, particularly about the possibility of a new, stronger variant emerging from China.
Britain and France have become the latest countries to require travelers from China to provide negative COVID-19 tests. The US, South Korea, India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan have imposed similar measures.
The World Health Organization on Friday again urged China’s health authorities to regularly share specific and real-time information on the country’s COVID situation as it continues to assess the latest surge in infections.
Health experts have warned that China’s narrow criteria for identifying deaths from COVID-19 could underestimate the true toll of the infection and make it difficult for people to communicate the best ways to protect themselves.