The government in China finally seems to ease some covid restrictions after the surge of protests across the country. During the protests people called for the ruling Communist party and its leader, Xi Jinping to step down after the death of at least 10 people in an apartment fire in Xinjiang.
The incident took place on 24th November, when a residential building in Urumqi, Xinjiang caught fire. In an interview with CNN, the deceased’s children said that their relatives couldn’t escape “because of the covid measures”, as the fire escapes were “blocked”. They have accused the government of the deaths of their loved ones.
Although, the accusations cannot be confirmed individually several videos have emerged on Twitter or Youtube where government officials can be seen locking or welding the doors of buildings. Despite this, government officials have completely denied the accusations or occurrence of any such incidents.
It’s been three years since the first Covid case was reported and China has been a global exception with its zero-tolerance approach towards the pandemic. It had enforced lockdowns and frequent tests which proved to have positive impacts. The country has recently reported the highest number of cases per day in the last three years, but these numbers are still low as compared to several other countries with comparatively lower populations.
Despite all the measures taken, the country’s daily Covid cases have reached the highest since the pandemic began and cities were shut down for months with strict restrictions on the movements of people. Continuous lockdowns and the unrelenting zero Covid policy have caused fatigue and resentment among the population leading to sporadic protests in several cities. Protesters are calling for the rules to be eased, even though a surge can be seen in the number of cases.
Moreover, public anger is somewhat understandable as Covid is not the only problem they are facing. Years of lockdown and strict measures have also affected their financial conditions and mental health. No work and no income have left families in debt and they fear starvation while inflation is making it even worse.
In addition, there have been reports of people committing suicide by jumping out of the windows when the government locked them down in buildings or quarantine facilities. However, the government says the measures are needed to save lives and avoid overwhelming its healthcare system. Strict lockdowns have also arguably kept death tolls low ever since the start of the pandemic, with the official figure at just over 5200 but incidents like apartment fires and suicides can be seen as a failure of these attempts.
Experts believe that the surge in Covid cases is because the vaccines being used in China are not very effective at controlling the Omicron variant. Above that, only half of the people in the country aged 80 years and over have received their first dose of vaccinations. What is more, less than 60% of people aged between 60 to 69 are fully vaccinated. The reason behind it is that unlike other countries China prioritised the vaccination of the working population instead of the elderly first. The elderly people were told that there was not enough data on the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines to recommend they receive them. This grew hesitancy among the elderly towards receiving the vaccine.
Western countries have offered China more effective vaccines, but the offer has been refused. Although the government has given no explanation for this, one could assume national pride and economic self-reliance can be the reasons behind such decisions. Alongside this, the zero covid policy has also affected the economy of the country. China’s economy has grown by only 3.9% over the past year, compared with its target of 5.5% for 2022. The lockdown measures are also affecting businesses and consumers in the rest of the world, who rely on China for their supplies of goods.
The World Health Organization has urged China to change its method of dealing with the pandemic, but the President of the country Xi Jinping has said the zero Covid policy is “scientific and effective”. This suggests that the harsh restrictions may remain intact for some time.
Picture Credit: Newsweek
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