At the end of January 2020, Americans were bombarded with headlines about a new viral outbreak in Wuhan, one of China’s largest cities, along with footage of the city shutting down all its public transit, sanitizing the empty streets, and speedy construction of a large-scale hospital to quarantine patients. Two months later, identical scenes took place on American soil.
But while COVID became a debated spotlight of domestic policies, we barely hear any COVID-related news from China anymore, where it originated. Are people’s lives back to normal now, did the pandemic hit the economy hard, and what are some of the controversies there?
COVID as government propaganda.
As of 22 November 2021, China reports 127,537 total cases and 5,697 total deaths since the outbreak, a seemingly very low number compared to other countries. (The US for example, has 47.8M total cases and 779K deaths, respectively). The reported vaccination rate is also quite high, with a total of 2.44 billion doses nationwide and 77% of the population fully vaccinated (compared to 59% in the US), thanks to various regional and local mandates.
The government immediately portrayed the fight against COVID as a success, as soon as all cases in Wuhan were eradicated. The media also spent a great portion of their attention on how the pandemic swept foreign countries.
How does China hold control of the virus so “well”?
Strategy One: strict, large-scaled lockdowns. Whenever one case pops up in a neighborhood, the local government would immediately implement a lockdown of the entire area for some weeks, where residents would be prohibited from even leaving their households. This has been disastrous for residents due to a shortage of supplies.
Strategy Two: high-tech contact tracing. All citizens were encouraged to download a “Health Code” app where they are only allowed to enter certain public spaces after showing their status. Since the app tracks personal geographical locations, in case anyone has either directly or indirectly entered proximity with a COVID patient at any time, their status on the app would automatically change.
Strategy Three: frequent and extensive testing. During a viral surge, local authorities forced all residents to get tested until all cases were eradicated.
Strategy Four: endless quarantines. Confirmed COVID patients and many non-patients are to be relocated by authorities into quarantine spaces, usually in hospitals or hotel rooms, for an indefinite period depending on their situation.
That is why COVID cases in China remained low because the Chinese government implemented draconian strategies that the rest of the world wouldn’t tolerate.
People’s lives are not entirely back to normal.
Since case numbers are kept low, can people freely travel or enjoy mask-free environments? The answer is not entirely. On the one hand, people outside certain regions of virus outbreaks can enjoy more freedom and don’t have to worry about COVID at all. However, you just don’t know if you’re up next on the quarantine list tomorrow. Some of my extended family members were forced to quarantine while traveling. Furthermore, many schools, companies, and authorities have mandated the Chinese vaccine, with a somewhat lower efficacy compared to American mRNA vaccines, which are unavailable in China. China has seen little protestation against the mandates.
From my perspective, I could be considered a “victim” of the Chinese COVID policy as well. As a Chinese national who currently resides overseas and desperately wants to visit parents in China, I have no choice but to purchase plane tickets with extremely high prices and test negative for both COVID and the antibody right before boarding the plane. Furthermore, I have to be quarantined for two weeks in a hotel room. That is why I am not going back to my country until these ridiculous policies end.
Public opinion, economy, and future.
Generally, the people have no complaints about Chinese COVID policies. This virus has been demonized by the public as a dreadful disease with lasting symptoms, which are just false. International travelers arriving in China bringing the virus into the country are also heavily blamed. Thus, the public seems to just want to wait until COVID stops prevailing worldwide before having their lives back to normal completely. Though, some voices also suggest that endless restrictions due to the pandemic are unnecessary and hurt the economy in the long run.
Additionally, economic data from China is not trustworthy, considering the government even claimed that positive GDP growth has been present throughout the pandemic. It is generally believed that China suffered greatly from the pandemic as a manufacturing and exportation dominant economy.
To me, the future is uncertain. Since most countries decided to co-exist with the virus as the mortality rate drops and the vaccination rate keeps increasing, it is unlikely that the virus will eventually be eradicated according to the Chinese standards, so China’s policies are likely to remain in place for the long haul.
Not to mention, to be able to brainwash people with statements like “we beat the virus-like no other country did,” is one of the biggest assets those dictators have in their hands.