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China’s strict zero-COVID policy may be gone, but it’s been replaced by chaos, confusion, and risk.


Beijing – Chinese can be backing away from its strict zero-COVID measures, but you would never know it in Beijing. Everyone in the capital is confused.

The city of more than 21 million people has no coherent plan, government computer systems are overwhelmed and COVID-19 Helpline staff contacted by phone are unsure how this brave new world will work.

It’s no surprise that residents are staying home to avoid breaking rules that have yet to be explained.

Two full days after the government announced it would relax the years-old zero-COVID policy, the streets of Beijing were as quiet on Friday as they had been during the darkest days of mass lockdowns.

Only pharmacies are busy, serving customers who flock to buy over-the-counter flu medicines and traditional Chinese remedies.

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People wait to buy medicines at a pharmacy in Beijing, China, on December 9, 2022.

NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty


Everyone is bracing for the so-called exit wave: a surge in cases like the one that swept through Hong Kong when its government suddenly relaxed COVID restrictions. The region’s omicron-driven fifth wave, which peaked in March this year, caused nearly 6,000 deaths. A whopping 96% of those who died were over the age of 60.

people on the mainland Porcelain now they fear such a deadly wave, especially when officials are sounding the alarm. In a webinar on Tuesday, a top health adviser predicted that ultimately 80-90% of the country’s vast population could contract the coronavirus at least once now that measures have been relaxed, and up to 60% could contract it. in the first wave of post-zero-COVID policies. That’s almost a billion people.

The implications are dire. Airfinity, a British health data analytics firm, predicts that lifting the zero-COVID measures could result in between 167 million and 279 million new cases, and between 1.3 million and 2.1 million deaths in the US alone. next 83 days.


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Despite what will undoubtedly be a difficult road ahead, the Chinese state media is raising a triumphant cry.

“We have survived the hardest moments!” the state news agency Xinhua announced on Friday. “In the last three years, the virus has weakened while we have grown stronger.”

The reversal in state propaganda reflects the sudden change in its policy. Just a few weeks ago, official rhetoric was still lauding the zero-COVID policy as “scientific,” “effective,” and destined to “pass the test of history.”

However, in Beijing, people are not worried about the surprising change in the official narrative. They are too busy trying to arm themselves against what will be the first winter in which the coronavirus circulates freely.

Cold and fever medicines, along with antigen test kits, sold out quickly online. Desperate residents are now standing outside pharmacies hoping for essential supplies as pharmacies ration what they have, in some cases limiting purchases to a single package per person.

China’s new COVID guidelines were announced by the National Health Commission, but they leave a lot of room for local interpretation. Cities, for example, can manage their own COVID checks at the local level.

In Beijing, that means chaos and half measures.

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Healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) move barricades away from a residential community that just opened after an easing of strict restrictions over the COVID-19 coronavirus in Beijing, China, on December 9, 2022. .

NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty


For example, to enter bars and restaurants, Beijingers must still show a negative PCR test that is not older than 48 hours. The problem is that now there is almost nowhere to get tested. Many of the testing stations that dotted the city’s streets simply closed and were removed.

There are a few still in operation, but people now must travel miles, to other sprawling city districts in many cases, to find one, and they are overwhelmed. That means they don’t send test results to the government monitoring system efficiently, which in turn doesn’t send updated results to anyone’s phones. And if you don’t have up-to-date test results on your phone, you won’t have to go out to dinner, hail taxis, meet friends at bars, or hit the gym.

No wonder the city is so quiet.

If the disorder in Beijing is any good, China’s exit from the pandemic will be chaotic, costly and stressful. At its worst, it can also be shockingly deadly, potentially tarnishing the credibility of the Communist Party itself for years to come.



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