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The anger in Shanghai against China’s ‘zero-COVID’ strategy is growing and this isn’t good news for Xi Jinping

Firstpost logo Firstpost 08-04-2022 FP Explainers
The anger in Shanghai against China’s ‘zero-COVID’ strategy is growing and this isn’t good news for Xi Jinping © Provided by Firstpost The anger in Shanghai against China’s ‘zero-COVID’ strategy is growing and this isn’t good news for Xi Jinping

China’s aggressive “no-COVID” policy is not going down well with the residents of Shanghai as the city battles the worst-ever crisis since the start of the pandemic. The financial hub on Friday announced a record 21,000 cases and a third consecutive day of testing.

The city has been under strict lockdown for two weeks with all movements restricted but there seems to be no stopping the coronavirus surge. Many of its 26 million people are now seething and speaking out against the Communist Party regime, which is almost unheard of in the country.

Videos from Shanghai have found their way on social media. Tired of the government’s hardline policy, residents are outraged over the shortage of food and essentials, stringent quarantines, and mindless rules.

In one particularly horrifying video clip verified by AFP, a person in a hazmat suit is seen bludgeoning a corgi dog to death in the street. A state-run Shanghai media outlet said Thursday that the local neighbourhood committee had admitted culling the creature because they were “afraid of being infected”, but conceded the act was “thoughtless”, reports the news agency.

The video went viral despite China’s strict internet censorship.

“That post about the corgi just keeps getting reshared on my WeChat moments,” a Shanghai resident told AFP, requesting anonymity. “I think a lot of people are going to be trying to be taking action through petitions and talking to their community... so hopefully the anger and fear turn into something more positive.”

Food shortage

Supermarkets continue to be shut in the city and deliveries are restricted. Residents have to largely depend on official delivery channels, which are backlogged due to increased demand, for supplies.

There are videos of locked-up residents chanting “we want food” and “we want freedom”. In a video, citizens are seen going to their balconies and protesting against the lack of supplies. “Control your soul’s dire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing,” a disgruntled resident reportedly said in the video.

Shanghai is struggling to get meat, rice, and other supplies. People complain online grocers often are sold out. Some received government food packages of meat and vegetables for a few days. But with no word on when they will be allowed out, anxiety is rising, reports AP.

According to Zhang Yu, 33, her household of eight eats three meals a day but has cut back to noodles for lunch. They have received no government supplies. “We read on the news there is (food), but we just can’t buy it,” she told AP. “As soon as you go to the grocery shopping app, it says today’s orders are filled.”

Other viral videos – whose locations have been verified by AFP – appear to show residents scuffling with hazmat-clad officials and bursting through a barricade onto a street, yelling, “We want to eat cheap vegetables!”

No eating, no kissing

The anger is unprecedented in Shanghai and it has left even supporters of Chinese president Xi Jinping shocked.

After a public outcry over isolating children who test positive from their parents, the city officials have made an exception. Parents could apply to stay with children with “special needs” and accompany them if they fully comprehend the health risks and sign an agreement, according to Shanghai authorities.

The parents must wear masks, dine at a different time than their children, avoid sharing items with them and strictly follow all regulations, said Wu Qianyu of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission. She did not define what qualified as “special needs”, reports Guardian.

That’s not all. Healthcare workers have reportedly asked families locked in together to eat and sleep separately. “From tonight, couples should sleep separately, don’t kiss, hugging is not allowed, and eat separately. Thank you for your corporation,” the workers told the residents of a housing society.

A challenge for Xi

All of this is only adding to the discontent among locals who seem to be losing faith in China’s COVID-19 strategy.

For experts, what is happening in Shanghai – and the social media backlash – is exposing the conundrum at the heart of the central policy.

“In terms of balancing the need to protect health against the need to protect socioeconomic stability, I’m not sure that this is the right approach,” Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations told AFP.

The growing angst risks becoming one of the biggest challenges to Xi perhaps since he took power in 2012, and comes just months before he’s expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term at a twice-a-decade party congress later this year, reports Bloomberg.

“There is the risk of a slow-burn discontent if lockdown measures spread across China,” Chen Shih-Min, an associate political science professor at National Taiwan University told Bloomberg. “And if its virus strategy goes out of control and heavily affects its economy, this will not look good as Xi attempts a third term. At that point, Xi will have no choice but to ramp up his nationalism agenda.”

Curbs in other cities

Meanwhile, China continues to tighten curbs in other parts of the country, even those that are not seeing infections.

Zhengzhou, in central Henan province, is testing all 12.6 million residents after finding a few asymptomatic cases in recent days. Beijing has strengthened regular screening for employees in the city’s key sectors, requiring all staff at elderly care agencies, schools, and institutions handling imported goods to take tests at least once a week, reports Reuters.

In Shizong county in southwest China’s Yunnan province, shops were shut, transport suspended and residents barred from leaving their towns or villages after an asymptomatic person returned home from Shanghai and infected a household member, the news agency reports.

Right now there are 23 Chinese cities have implemented either full or partial lockdowns.

The human and economic costs of China’s “zero-COVID” policy are massive and the country is falling back even as the world recovers from the pandemic.

With inputs from agencies

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