By Sushil Kutty
China’s zero-Covid policy is history and the virus is exacting revenge; taking Beijing and every major Chinese city in its deadly embrace. The very same people who protested the strict Covid restrictions are sharing their Covid-positive test results online. Offices are reporting “staff sick”. Curiously, Chinese media have stopped reporting Covid, almost like they had been ordered to.
Covid-19 news is now encapsulated in brief clips. Reports on fresh outbreaks are few and far between. It’s as if the government has had enough of taking responsibility. The new adage is “be the first person responsible for your own health.”
And without ‘Big Brother’ catching you by the scruff, citizens are feeling neglected, a strain of the Stockholm syndrome! People of their own free-will are voluntarily staying indoors, voluntarily leaving the streets to lonely empty stretches. Grocery stores are rows of vacant shelves and infection is in every Chinese mind.
Also, a huge surge in Covid-19 cases, says epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, according to whom 60 percent of China, and 10 percent of Earth’s population will be Covid positive in the coming 90 days. As if to confirm, Beijing’s top crematoria are reporting they cannot take anymore dead.
Feigl-Ding quotes an anonymous Chinese Communist Party official: “let whoever needs to be infected, infected, let whoever needs to die, die. Early infections, early deaths, early peak, early resumption of production.”
Mass testing has gone out the window. The government, which used to be obsessed with testing, and number of infected, and death count, is today detached. The official response is cases are declining after the restrictions were eased. The government has stopped counting “asymptomatic cases”.
Believe the government, and there have been no new deaths! The Chinese government is pretty satisfied playing down the speed and the spread of the novel coronavirus. And left with no government data, citizens are being compelled to guesstimate.
End result: The coronavirus has become a loose cannon. Social media posts are all about tens and thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths. At one time after December 14, citizen surveys of friends and acquaintances had 40 percent tested positive. People are carrying out home tests, and self-reporting.
More cities are reporting spikes. With the government hardly bothered, there is an undercurrent of helplessness. And treatment at home has become the norm. The unsupervised outbreaks are not on a tight rein. Hospitals are holding up for now, but in constant fear of an onslaught.
There’s a lesson for the rest of the world. Then again, there is assurance coming out of Qatar where millions had jostled in mask-less proximity and yet there haven’t been reports of ‘World Cup Covid’. Nobody caught the Covid virus playing and watching soccer in the brand new Doha football stadiums despite the sweat and strain of close encounters.
Back to China however, and chances are China’s healthcare will come under pressure sooner than later. Feigl-Ding’s prediction must have been conveyed to President Xi Jinping. In China, Covid-19 has become a stigma beyond being a disease that kills.
The politics of the recent protests apart, the intensity of the protests surprised the government. Whatever plan the government had has been junked, for the time-being, at least. The government is content to let things lie. But for how long? Ultimately, people have to be made to get back to work if China has to get that old GDP back.
For China’s neighbours, countries with which it shares a land border, China under renewed pressure from the coronavirus is bad news. China could take its frustrations on its neighbours. The Indian Army, especially, with close contacts with the Chinese PLA cannot be complacent.
It is also rather uneasy that Indians everywhere are back to being mask-less and carefree. Chemists have stopped stocking up on masks and sanitizers. There are strangers mocking strangers wearing masks. Also, cases of people accidently drinking ‘sanitizer’ haven’t been reported in months.
Covid-compatible behaviour is no longer the norm worldwide. And when governments have stopped firing warning shots, why should the people worry? Let us just hope epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding is a compulsive sensationalist, and is scaring the world with statements like “the point is China and the world is in deep trouble.” (IPA Service)