China's corona chaos: The virus is out of control - and head of state Xi Jinping is silent
Created: 12/16/2022, 2:09 p.m
By: Sven Hauberg
In November, Xi Jinping sold his Corona course as there was no alternative - now the turnaround.
China's party leader has not yet explained himself.
Others have to do that for him.
Munich/Beijing – Imagine Germany being hit by a new corona wave, hundreds of thousands getting sick in just two or three days – and the
don’t mention a word about the long queues in front of the hospitals, the shortage of medicine or the sheer panic, which has gripped many.
Not in China: it feels like half the country has been flat since the end of the zero-Covid policy.
In the main news, however, the opening of the Sino-Latin American Entrepreneur Summit in Ecuador is the most important topic on Thursday.
Towards the end of the program it is then claimed that only 2000 new corona cases have recently been reported, so everything is not that bad.
In the middle of last week, China unexpectedly massively relaxed its corona policy.
After three years of lockdowns, forced quarantine and mass testing, the zero-Covid strategy was suddenly history.
Since then, there have been few restrictions and the virus has been free to spread unhindered in a country that has not been able to develop herd immunity and has failed to adequately vaccinate the most vulnerable population groups.
It is not known how many people have been infected in the past few days - especially since China's National Health Commission recently switched to only including people with symptoms in its statistics.
There are said to be no deaths.
China's head of state and party leader: This is how Xi Jinping rose to become the most powerful man in the world
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China's corona policy is "absolutely correct," writes the state press
How bleak the situation really is can be seen in countless reports and videos shared on social media.
An undertaker in Beijing's Chaoyang district reports that he no longer knows where to store all the corona dead because he can't keep up with the burning.
Others tell how they had to queue for hours in front of completely overcrowded hospitals - or desperately try to get fever medication and self-tests.
And China's head of state and party leader?
Just a few weeks ago, at the party congress of China's communists, Xi Jinping defended his tough corona policy and claimed that the primary goal was to protect human life.
As recently as November, state media quoted Xi as saying that China would “undeterred” with its zero-Covid policy in order to “resolutely win” the “fight” against the pandemic.
But now that there are apparently mass deaths, Xi Jinping is silent.
Spicy: Just on the day that China announced the relaxation of the corona virus, Xi flew to Saudi Arabia for a state visit.
Apparently for fear of infection, this man in Beijing only dared to leave the house with a gas mask.
© Andy Wong/dpa
Instead of addressing his people himself, he sends others forward to justify the change of course.
For example, Vice Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, who first announced easing and later explained that the number of corona infections in Beijing was “increasing rapidly”.
Or Zhong Nanshan, the country's most renowned epidemiologist, who said that from now on Covid-19 should simply be referred to as the "corona cold" because the virus is hardly more dangerous than flu.
At the same time, the party newspaper, the People's Daily
Xi's corona policy as "absolutely correct" in a full-page comment on Thursday.
China and Corona: Only three years of fear - now the sudden opening
Meanwhile, the Chinese no longer know what to believe.
After all, they had been persuaded for three years that the only alternative to a zero-Covid policy was mass deaths like in the rest of the world.
For months, the Chinese state media had reported with relish every day new horror figures from the USA, for example, where a good one million people died of Covid.
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The big question is why China is now making a U-turn in corona policy.
Was it the protests at the end of November that led to a rethink?
Thousands of people took to the streets in dozens of cities to demonstrate against the lockdown madness.
But why then this sudden, completely hasty opening?
Finally, Xi could have presented a step-by-step plan that promises easing in the coming months.
That, too, would probably have calmed down the angry citizens and given the government time to prepare the health system for the expected influx of sick people – and to increase the vaccination rate among the particularly vulnerable with a new campaign.
Only around 40 percent of Chinese people over 80 have received a third vaccination, which is necessary
so that China's self-produced vaccines offer full protection.
That can hardly be changed overnight.
China's top epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan explains the recent change of course with the highly contagious omicron variant: "Under such circumstances, it is difficult to completely interrupt the chains of transmission - no matter how strong the prevention and control are." That omicron already arrived in China at the beginning of the year was, one prefers to keep secret.
China is threatened with hundreds of thousands of corona deaths
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of corona cases had increased massively before the easing.
If that's true, the question remains why China's hospitals have only been stormed by corona patients for a few days.
Perhaps yes, because people have preferred to stay at home for fear of forced quarantine if they were infected.
In any case, many Chinese find Xi Jinping's corona policy completely incomprehensible, and displeasure in the strictly controlled social media is increasing.
Trey McArver of the China-specific consultancy Trivium speaks of the "most dangerous moment in Chinese politics in decades" and a "dangerous time for Xi Jinping".
At an online event midweek, McArver said "for the first time since Xi has been in office," it's not clear "what standing" he still has in the Communist Party.
However, he does not believe that Xi's rule is seriously threatened.
After all, China's top leaders have already survived much more dramatic crises, such as the "Great Leap Forward" when state founder Mao Zedong's failed economic reform at the end of the 1950s led to up to 50 million starvation deaths.
It is unclear whether Xi Jinping decided on the Corona U-turn alone.
If so, then that would speak for an almost limitless power of China's head of state and party.
It would be frightening to imagine that one man alone, perhaps on a whim, could make such momentous — and obviously erratic — decisions.
The key is how the situation will develop in the coming weeks.
According to several studies, hundreds of thousands of people could soon die - a tragedy of this magnitude even China's massive censorship apparatus could no longer hide.
However, a return to the zero-Covid policy should be impossible.
"The genie is out of the bottle," said Trivium analyst McArver.