Were China to abandon its unique, much-vaunted zero-Covid regime of tight lockdowns and forced centralised quarantine, a new study suggests, an unchecked surge of the Omicron variant could result in 112 million symptomatic infections, 2.7 million intensive care admissions and almost 1.6 million fatalities between May and July.
Evidence of increasing protests online and even in the streets by Shanghai residents, bridling at month-long restrictions, food shortages and heavy-handedness by enforcement staff, comes as a warning from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the state's approach is no longer sustainable. "As we all know, the virus is evolving, changing its behaviours, becoming more transmissible," director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Tuesday. "With that changing behaviour, changing your measures will be very important. When we talk about the zero-Covid strategy, we don't think it's sustainable." He was rebuked by China. Researchers from Shanghai's Fudan University also warned, however, that, given Omicron's fast-spreading nature, "whether and for how long a zero-Covid policy can remain in place is questionable".
China has officially recorded 763,845 Covid-19 cases and 555 deaths from the start of March to May 9th, probably a serious underestimation
President Xi Jinping continues to insist that the approach is the only way forward. But China's simultaneous reliance on a vaccination programme that is not reaching out effectively to the elderly and most vulnerable – only 61.5 per cent of over-60s had received a third dose by May 5th – and on its own domestically-sourced less effective jabs, has seen a surge in cases despite partial lockdowns in 41 cities. In Beijing, where the daily case count rose to 74 on Monday, officials announced that schools would close indefinitely, and many office workers have been told to work from home.
China has officially recorded 763,845 Covid-19 cases and 555 deaths from the start of March to May 9th, probably a serious underestimation. A strategy which, however harshly enforced, did successfully hold back the tide of Covid in the first months of the pandemic is now no longer the panacea it once was.