NewsFrom "enemy of humanity" to "simple flu": the turn...

From “enemy of humanity” to “simple flu”: the turn in the Chinese narrative on covid-19

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China has abruptly changed the course of its strategy against covid-19 and, consequently, the narrative about the disease that in 2020 plunged the planet into the biggest crisis since World War II. Eleven months after the contagious omicron variant broke out within its borders, and in the midst of the worst wave of infections to date, the world’s most populous nation has left behind the speech in which it criticized the West- and especially the United States.

United States― of having “the erroneous perception that this strain is little more than a flu” and, with a change of direction, assures that the virus “is no longer so dangerous” and that “it is the citizens [and not the State] who must take responsibility for their own health. Three weeks after this 180 degree turn, the president, Xi Jinping,

Beijing has backed down, assuring that its fight against the pandemic is “in a new stage”, contradicting the arguments by which, since March, a large part of its 1.4 billion inhabitants have seen their lives dominated by confinements, PCR tests and scrutiny. absolute part of your daily routine. The heavy hand with which the anti-covid measures were applied allowed China to record tiny numbers of infections and deaths in the first two years of the pandemic (officially only 5,241 people have died), but the detection of the first omicron cases in January 2022 put that shield against the coronavirus in check.

And while the government responded forcefully in the spring to the progressive increase in infections, the state media reinforced the discourse that the zero covid strategy was “the greatest proof of superiority of the Chinese system”, to the detriment of the Western one. The newspaper library of the nationalist newspaper Global Times leaves phrases such as that “abandoning the fight against covid-19 and letting it spread freely would be a betrayal of all humanity” and that “the fallacy that omicron is little more than a flu is a hoax to weaken the acceptance of the zero covid strategy among the Chinese.”

Now, analysts close to the government, including the former director of the Global Times, the controversial Hu Xijin, have gone from defending the ironclad measures tooth and nail to minimizing the risks of the virus and even telling on networks how the disease is spreading. Zhong Nanshan, a respected epidemiologist and leading public voice during the early days of the pandemic, suggested last week that omicron should be called a “coronavirus cold.” The turnaround is especially surprising if one takes into account that, in May, when the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, pointed out that the zero covid policy was not sustainable with such a contagious variant, his statements were immediately censored.

Days before, Xi Jinping had warned that relaxing the measures would be devastating and would “inevitably” lead to “a large number of serious illnesses and deaths” and urged “to fight resolutely against those who distort, question or challenge prevention policies”. The legitimacy that the Chinese leader has gained as “commander in chief” of “the battle against the virus” – in March the official press assured that he himself devised the zero covid strategy – earned him a third term as secretary in October General of the Communist Party, an unprecedented event among his predecessors and which gives him unprecedented power since the time of Mao Zedong.

“By launching an all-out people’s war to stop the spread of the virus, we have fully protected the health and safety of the population and have made tremendously encouraging achievements both in response to the epidemic and in economic and social development,” he said. Xi at the 20th Party Congress.

The last time the Chinese president was cited commanding the fight against covid was on November 10, when he promised to implement the zero covid strategy “unwaveringly”, but minimizing its impact on the economy and society. Although Beijing issued 20 guidelines the next day to “optimize” the protocols, local governments continued to take the law into their own hands when imposing lockdowns, for fear that excessive easing would cause an even greater increase and faster contagion. . Those tight controls ignited the flame of the largest social protests in the Xi era, which, according to analysts, accelerated the shelving of covid zero.

Wasted resources

Despite the fact that Chinese officials and health experts assure that the shift is based on the fact that the virus is less lethal and that, now, China is prepared for the readjustments, foreign epidemiologists believe that the Government has wasted resources and time instead of tackling the root problem, since the millions of dollars that have been invested in carrying out daily testing campaigns or in the construction of confinement centers should have been used to vaccinate the elderly or improve the capacity of ICUs. “Reality has fully demonstrated that our policy against the pandemic is correct, scientific and effective. It has won the support of the people and can stand the test of history,” read a long report published on the 15th on the front page of the People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper,

The Chinese leader, for his part, continues to remain silent. On December 7, the day the government announced the unexpected demise of the zero covid strategy, Xi traveled to Saudi Arabia on a state visit, suggesting that he wants to avoid being linked to the abrupt reopening and its aftermath: Airfinity , a British company that analyzes health data, estimates that more than a million infections a day and more than 5,000 deaths a day will occur in China in the coming weeks.

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