Early in the pandemic ‘getting Covid later’ versus getting it right away made sense. We didn’t know what we were dealing with. It was better to delay until there were treatments and vaccines, and better to preserve hospital capacity. But what mattered is what you did with that time.
The U.S. and U.K. developed functional vaccines and treatments. China’s Sinovac Coronavac vaccine barely worked against the ancestral Wuhan strain. Most of China remained immunologically naive to the virus, especially as it mutated. The only end game was Xi’s re-election at the 20th People’s Congress. China didn’t use the time to prepare itself. Though they’d licensed BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine for domestic production, it was never authorized for use.
China began to liberalize restrictions once Xi Jinping was elected to an unprecedented third time. But it faced a surge in cases, and new lockdowns.
And now the regime faces mass protests across the country, including in Beijing, over its lockdown policies.
WATCH: Protests are breaking out across China from Beijing to other major cities in the country over Covid lockdowns
— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) November 27, 2022
A key instigator was a fire that killed locked down residents – people who couldn’t escape because they were locked inside of their building.
On Nov 23, when a fire broke out in #Urumqi , people’s doors were locked from outside. Fire truck couldn’t get closer either( see my previous tweet). The latest figure says 44 were burnt to death, including a 3 y/o kid. That’s one of the reasons for today’s protests. pic.twitter.com/s4E0JHk4wQ
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferzeng97) November 25, 2022
It’s not clear what will happen as a result of the protests.
- they could fizzle on their own
- they could be crushed by the Chinese state
- they could (much less likely) lead to real regime change
To succeed protests need to be seen broadly, which is why Chinese censorship is so important but word does seem to be getting out. They also need to take place without repercussion. People need to see fellow citizens ‘getting away with it’ speaking truth to power and not suffering as a result. Then the protests can build on themselves and overwhelm.
It seems the first outcome, though, is most likely. The third is least likely. The moment at which social movements do succeed it, though, always comes as a surprise. Chinese stock markets are predicting at least a loosening of Covid restrictions.
Chinese catering, hotel and tourism stocks rallied today. So you know what the market is betting on… pic.twitter.com/UL8c4bSoDg
— Cathy Yuan Zhang (@CathyYuanZhang) November 28, 2022
Never forget that last year Marriott’s CEO described Chinese Covid policy as “a great road map for other markets around the world”. The problem of course is that while nearly every other country has a wall of immunity from vaccination and prior infection, relaxing restrictions risks overwhelming hospitals there. China risks losing face, that its lockdowns throughout the pandemic have been for no purpose (other than averting crisis prior to Xi’s re-election). They desperately need to roll out better vaccines, and to ramp up domestic production of antivirals.