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Inside China's Conflict Over Zero-Covid's Future

In China's fight for a COVID-free future, "Omicron is not a threat; it's like a common cold," said the IT worker, in his mid-20s, in Shanghai, in which he called China's ongoing lockdown measures "ridiculous." His frustration at civil rights violations and economic damage is expressed by Cai Shiyu, a 70-year-old resident of the megacity who is suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure. "It's not like a cold that just goes away after a while," said Cai, who believes that one case of COVID-19 (which translates to 19) is too much to tolerate. The epidemic will definitely recover. " Opinions on President Xi Jinping's signature "zero-COVID" policy are in China, a country that is often frowned upon from the outside and seen as a surveillance state that imposes iron discipline.

The fierce debate that had sparked several anti-lockdown protests illustrates the difficulties Xi and his government face in imposing the world's toughest COVID rules to avoid national discontent. After nearly three years, senior government officials and public health experts have signalled a significant relaxation of COVID measures.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said Thursday that China's healthcare system has "resisted the test" of COVID, allowing additional government policy adjustments. This confuses many people like Cai, who says a low death toll validates the merits of the no-compromise approach. Officially, there have been around 5,200 COVID-related deaths in China, compared to more than 1 million in the United States, 690,000 in Brazil, and 212,000 in the UK. A US-wide fatality rate would have claimed the lives of more than 4 million people in a country of 1.4 billion people. There are potential risks of a move away from strict restrictions as daily infections reach record levels, which are accentuated by comparatively low vaccination rates among the elderly and concerns about the resilience of the healthcare system.


 Public disagreement about COVID-19 is accompanied by apparent differences between professionals. Zhang Wenhong, head of Shanghai's COVID-19 expert team, said last month that the virus has become less virulent with Omicron, and this, coupled with overall high vaccination rates, may finally offer China a "way out" from the disruption of the pandemic.

Coronavirus expert Zhong Nanshan, who helped draft China's initial response to COVID-19, said the omicron's fatality rate is relatively low, and "citizens don't have to worry too much." However, Zhou Jiatong, head of the Center for Disease Control in Guangxi's southwestern region, suggested a less optimistic view in an article published in the Shanghai Journal of Preventive Medicine last month regarding the variant. He assumed that mainland China had been flooded. If COVID restrictions had been lifted in the same way as Hong Kong this year, there would have been more than 233 million infections and more than 2 million deaths. 


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