DThe message from the neighborhood committee comes via Wechat. “If your rapid corona test is positive, you do not need to report it to the neighborhood committee,” it says, as if the zero-Covid policy had never existed. “If your rapid test is negative after five days, you can go back to work as normal.” Anyone suffering from a headache or fever should drive to the pharmacy to buy medication despite the infection. Anyone who is sick should call the emergency services themselves.
What a turnaround! Until two weeks ago, neighborhood committees were the dreaded foot soldiers of the zero Covid strategy in the “all-out war on the virus”. They were a remnant of the Mao era that seemed long forgotten and suddenly emerged from obscurity in the pandemic.
The committees were the long arm of the Communist Party, reaching into living rooms. They could, without warning or legal basis, lock down a house or have its occupants taken to a quarantine center at 2 a.m. They checked the health app at the entrance every day, forcing the residents to take a PCR test every two days. In the chat group of the house community, they made sure that only a few dared to question the measures. They were in charge in the control and nanny state if anyone needed medication or medical treatment. Now, like a spook, they have disappeared again.
In just a few days, China has made a 180-degree turnaround in corona policy. Yesterday there was total control, today there is chaos. The departure from the zero-Covid strategy came so suddenly that even the propaganda apparatus was taken by surprise. Just over two weeks ago, government spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted maliciously: “The price of ‘freedom’ in the USA is one million corona deaths”. Meanwhile, China is threatened by a similarly grim scenario. The World Health Organization predicts “a very hard and difficult time” for the country.
Up to a million corona deaths?
In a recent study, Hong Kong scientists predict between 630,000 and one million corona deaths in China. The lower number could be reached if antiviral drugs were available across the board and 85 percent of the population had already received a fourth vaccination one to two months “before the opening”. Analysis has long since been overtaken by reality. Most preventive measures were abolished last week. But the campaign for a fourth dose has only just begun. Less than 60 percent of the population has been triple vaccinated so far. The proportion of particularly vulnerable older people over 80 was recently only 40 percent.
Why has the Chinese leadership neglected the protection of vulnerable groups for so long? And why did she go from one extreme to the other and dump all the control measures at once overnight? It is reasonable to assume that the protests against the zero-Covid strategy have significantly accelerated the opening. Or maybe the government had no other choice. The virus had long since overcome the Chinese capital’s defenses. In just a few days, the number of people seeking help at a Beijing fever clinic increased 16-fold. The World Health Organization’s emergency aid director, Mike Ryan, made it clear that the virus had spread “intensively” in the country even before the easing. In other words, the virus was out of control.