HONG KONG (Reuters) – Protests across China underscore growing fears among people that tough restrictions imposed by President Xi Jinping over the pandemic may remain in place. Unfortunately, two wasted years immunizing vulnerable groups and strengthening hospital resources validates these concerns.
Since the start of the pandemic, infections and deaths in the People’s Republic of China have been kept at less than one per million people, earning Beijing precious political capital despite the huge social and economic costs. However, new daily cases reached more than 40,000 on November 27. Cities that account for 65% of the country’s gross domestic product are under some kind of lockdown starting Friday, according to Goldman Sachs analysts.
Any end to mandatory, near-daily Covid tests and strict quarantine rules will be bumpy because of the unvaccinated population. As of November, about 27 million citizens age 60 and older had not had a COVID shot, Breakingviews data from official data shows, and another 36 million seniors had yet to receive their second dose. May one study by Chinese researchers predicted that the uncontrolled spread of Omicron would lead to a death rate of 1.1 per 1,000 people over six months, nearly double the rate in the United States from December 2021 to April 2022. The same study found that demand for intensive care unit beds In the above scenario it would be as massive as 15.6 times China’s current capacity.
This shortfall is partly because a large portion of the finances has gone into measures such as buying massive amounts of tests, rather than upgrading healthcare infrastructure. The national government’s spending on health and medical care jumped 22% in the first 10 months of this year compared to the same period in 2019, to 1.75 trillion yuan ($243 billion). Nomura estimates that China could spend as much as 2.3% of its GDP on testing alone if 90% of Chinese people have to get tested every other day.
Building and maintaining quarantine facilities will also need funding: in one case, a city in eastern Shandong province have suggested A bond issue dedicated to the cause, and he predicts that the Covid outbreak in China will continue for at least another five years, according to Chinese media.
While many countries around the world suffer from a shortage of healthcare capacity, Beijing’s political stance so far means it has more to lose politically from deaths than other governments that have taken the pain of reopening. This narrows China’s options.
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Reuters reports that hundreds of demonstrators in Shanghai shouted and clashed with police on November 27 as protests against China’s strict Covid-19 restrictions raged into a third day after a deadly fire in an apartment in Xinjiang. The wave of civil disobedience spread to other cities, including Beijing.
Officials in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, held a press conference in the early hours of November 26 to reject Covid-19 measures that impeded the escape and rescue of residents in a fire that killed at least 10 people. The Reuters report stated that 4 million residents were subject to some of the longest lockdowns in the country, preventing them from leaving their homes for up to 100 days.
Editing by Robyn Mack and Katrina Hamlin
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