The covid chokes China


The Catalan Alberto Fernández, manager of Torres wineries in China, the confinement in Shanghai caught him with a well-stocked fridge. “We had four days to prepare,” he says by phone. But this is not the case of many other neighbors, who did not stockpile enough supplies -in principle the closure was only going to last a few days- and now they hardly have anything to eat. “There are many problems to buy food or to get it home. The authorities were considered good managers, but their disorganization has caused people to be very burned out, ”he adds.

For weeks, the economic lung of China has been under strict confinement that still has no release date. Its 26 million inhabitants, unaccustomed to hardship, have taken to social networks to air a discontent that grows with the passing of days. To the shortage of food or medicine is added the difficulty in accessing certain medical treatments, the state of the quarantine centers, some episodes of violence against pets of infected people or the policy of separating positive children from their healthy parents. The wave of popular indignation over this last measure was so great that it forced the partial rectification of the authorities.

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Boredom is not limited to social networks. There are many videos of discussions and fights between officials and residents who do not consider certain decisions fair. When Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang visited a neighborhood this week, several residents vociferously berated him for food supply problems. In another recent episode, police officers dressed in protective suits confronted a group of neighbors who opposed several floors being converted into quarantine centers. “This is crazy. Aren’t the bureaucrats ashamed of what is happening these weeks?” complained one of those present.

Given the growing discontent over an isolation that was scheduled to end on the 5th, the police have warned that those who skip the dictated measures will be treated in “strict accordance” with the law. Likewise, they exhorted the population not to distribute false news and warned against speculation in the price of food, which has skyrocketed in recent days.

Despite the restrictions, the city has recorded more than 300,000 infections since the beginning of March at a rate of more than 20,000 daily, the vast majority asymptomatic, and zero deaths, a disparity so great that it raises doubts among experts. For many Shanghainese, these figures do not justify the strict measures taken and the damage they are causing to the economy, which is why they ask for a gradual liberalization with which to return to normality as soon as possible.

Arguments and fights with officials in Shanghai for the poor planning of the bureaucracy

However, his position cannot be extrapolated to the rest of the country, where the vast majority of the population supports the zero tolerance policy championed by Beijing since 2020. In fact, many criticize the fact that while other large cities closed down with just one handful of cases, in the case of Shanghai they tried to innovate with a phased confinement that failed and caused the spread of the pandemic.

That does not mean that they take note of what is happening and prepare themselves just in case it happens to them. In recent weeks, the sale of refrigerators and refrigerators has skyrocketed. Manuals on how to better cope with quarantine or tips for vegetables to hold better for a while before being consumed have become popular on social networks.

Local authorities are also alert. If a few days ago the city of Guangzhou (18 million inhabitants) tested the entire population and suspended face-to-face classes for twenty cases, this Friday Xian ordered the partial confinement of its 13 million inhabitants for 43 positives. In total, analysts at the Nomura bank estimate that some 400 million Chinese – almost a quarter of the population – are under some type of total or partial confinement in 45 cities that accumulate 40% of the GDP of the second world economy.

“A tightening of the measures was foreseeable because the Communist Party is not going to take any risk. They are aware that at any moment the situation can get out of control and that keeps them awake at night”, especially before an autumn in which President Xi Jinping is expected to revalidate his position, analyzes Xulio Ríos, director of the Political Observatory China, for the Efe agency.

The measures, which affect the operation of factories, ports or road transport, are already taking their toll on the economy. A survey by the US Chamber of Commerce in China ensures that 54% of respondents have already cut their income projections for this year. Consumer confidence has also been affected, with a drop in tourism or in car or home sales. Entities such as the Natixis investment bank calculate a reduction of up to 1.8% of GDP. “Achieving the 5.5% annual target faces increasing difficulties, as China’s GDP will come under greater pressure than anticipated for the first quarter, and more uncertainties are likely to emerge in subsequent quarters,” they noted in a note at the start of the lockdown. in Shanghai.

The party insists on the “zero containment” policy due to the lack of vaccines for the elderly and weak health

Even so, the will of the authorities to keep their policy in force does not waver. Voices abound in state forums and media, including Xi’s, who defend zero policy as “the best strategy” for the Asian giant. Among its main arguments, that “ómicron is not a flu” and that its expansion could cause a bloodletting in a country with millions of unvaccinated elderly people and a still weak health system, especially in rural areas. “We must adhere to the zero-COVID strategy and gradually relax policies in the future,” epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, a renowned expert, summed up.

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