China's 'Zero-COVID' Approach & the Plight of Shanghai's Residents – All We Know

In videos viral on social media, residents of China's commercial hub were heard screaming out of their houses.

4 min read
Edited By :Saundarya Talwar

Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas


Reports of China's drastic response to its latest wave of COVID-19 – as part of its 'zero-COVID' strategy – have shocked the world.

Shanghai, a city of more than 26 million people (second only to Chongqing), reported seven new deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, 19 April.

Additionally, more than 22,000 fresh COVID-19 infections were reported.

Nevertheless, the local administration has continued to use the 'zero-COVID' approach that China has employed since the beginning of the pandemic.

That approach is beginning to adversely impact the residents of Shanghai. In videos that went viral on social media, residents of China's commercial hub were heard screaming out of their houses.

What do we know about the 'zero-COVID' strategy, the strict lockdowns, and the hardships that people are facing in one of China's largest cities? Read on.

China's 'Zero-COVID' Approach to Tackle the Pandemic

In a bid to control COVID outbreaks, China has rigidly abided with its "zero COVID" strategy. This reportedly includes:

  • A ban on leaving houses

  • Fines and detentions for anyone breaking the rules

According to China's calculations, the pros outweigh the cons.

The Chinese government has estimated that its "zero COVID" approach has avoided around 1 million deaths and 50 million illnesses.

COVID-induced deaths in mainland China are officially numbered at around 5,000, that too mostly from the early days of the pandemic.

China has tried to consistently criticise the western approach to COVID.

A Global Times (considered to be an English language mouthpiece for the Communist Party), article published earlier this month, says that "the West is far from having beaten the virus."

It then goes on to say that "over the past two years, it is just because of the firm adherence to the principle of people first and life first, and to the scientifically and precisely dynamic zero-COVID policy, that China has managed to maximize the protection of people's lives and health."

The human costs of China's policy are becoming much clearer with the emergence of videos showing residents suffering due to the lockdown.

It remains to be seen how the Chinese government will tackle more such stories if they come out, given that they, to an extent, discredit the 'zero-COVID' approach that the Communist Party is so proud of.


The Numbers in Shanghai

More than 22,000 fresh COVID-19 infections were reported on Tuesday.

Shanghai authorities say that most COVID cases since 1 March have been asymptomatic.

One possible reason for that is that the omicron variant is less deadly than the older variants.

Another possibility is the high vaccination rate. The number of old people who are vaccinated, however, is not that high.

There are, according to The New York Times, around 264 million people who are above 60, and around 40 million of them are either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Local officials have stated that people belonging to around 7,000 residential compounds with zero infections in the past week would be permitted to step out, but only within a limited area.


Daily Hardships – Severe Shortage of Food and Water

The lack of deaths and the high percentage of infected people who are asymptomatic has not prompted the local administration to ease the curbs.

Nobody can leave their house. 26 million people are, in a way, under house arrest. Even the emergency exits of their buildings have been closed off.

Therefore, buying basic food supplies is almost impossible, and delivery services are "totally overwhelmed."

After all, residents have to order food and water, and wait for government-employed people to drop off items like vegetables, meat, and eggs.

This has contributed to a severe shortage of food and even medical supplies.

Consequently, small riots have broken out.

Children are being separated from their parents. Reports regarding the same show several children in cots at a quarantine facility with their parents nowhere in sight.

Shanghai hospitals are overwhelmed with patients with mild symptoms, while asymptomatic people are being taken to quarantine centres.

In makeshift hospitals, people are provided beds without sheets or blankets, along with dirty public toilets.

One woman wrote on Weibo, "I don’t know why my hospital looks nothing like those shown on television. The difference is worlds apart."

Even pets are not being spared. A video uploaded and shared on Chinese social media showed a pet doing being beaten to death by a COVID prevention worker, after the owner of the dog tested positive.

The dog was running after the bus that was taking its owner away when the brutal incident took place.


A Late Lockdown?

This is Shanghai's first city-wide lockdown. Before this, there were local lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID in particular areas of the city, mostly individual residential complexes.

Local authorities stuck to this tactic even when COVID numbers spiked to nearly 1,800 in mid-March.

By the end of the month, however, the city saw a spike in infections, with more than 2,000 cases being recorded daily.

Then the administration started imposing phased lockdowns from 28 March, first in the east, and then a few days later, in the west.

But as cases kept rising, a city-wide lockdown was finally imposed on 3 April, and that has not been eased as of now.

The approach to Shanghai has been different compared to other cities (like Xian) mostly because it contributes more than 3 percent of China's GDP and constitutes over 10 percent of China's total trade since 2018.

Airports in Shanghai brought in in protective equipment and medicine during the beginning of the pandemic, making the city important with respect to tackling COVID-19, according to the BBC.

Additionally, studies published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong concluded that a two-week lockdown in Shanghai (or even Beijing for that matter) could cost the country around 2 percent of its monthly GDP.

China has set an economic growth target of 5.5 percent for the year 2022 (the lowest in 30 years), but its COVID control policies in Shanghai and other parts of the country will make it difficult to achieve that target.

(With inputs from NYT, AP, and BBC.)

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Edited By :Saundarya Talwar
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