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The SARS-COV-19 outbreak was first detected almost exactly three years ago in Wuhan. In large part because of PRC Government obfuscation and delay, the world was caught off-balance in ensuing months. We all know the toll in human lives and suffering that has followed.

For democratic-leaning, economically-advanced societies, the road back to a semblance of “normalcy” has been long and difficult but citizens in these countries are now embracing their return to “the new normal.” For less developed countries in the Global South, the journey has been even more arduous and painful due to constrained resources (though, interestingly, the genetic stock of African nations seems to have insulated many of their populations from the worst of Covid-19’s virulence). It is only in China — and perhaps also in North Korea but who knows what has been happening there — that the experience has been dramatically different. Xi Jinping’s “steadfast” policy of Zero Covid — and, subsequently, Dynamic Zero Covid — has resulted in coercive lockdowns of as much as 20% of the country’s population at a given time and in an ineffective vaccination program weakened by hostility to foreign-made mRNA vaccines and propaganda-induced vaccine-hesitancy among its elderly. Today, only 40% of the most vulnerable segment of Chinese seniors — those over 80 — have received two doses and a booster of the Chinese-made vaccine, a combination which has been shown to be no more effective than two doses (without booster) of the Moderna, Pfizer and comparable Western-developed vaccines.

The crippling effects of Xi’s Zero Covid and Dynamic Zero Covid policies on China’s economic performance, coupled with the unprecedented nation-wide protests against the lockdowns flaring up in late November prompted the PRC Government to suddenly drop the policies — and, in fact, any mention of these policies — in early December. As well documented in front-page reporting in today’s New York Times (After Scuttling ‘Zero Covid,’ Xi Offers No Plan), this about-face is potentially catastrophic in its suddeness: the PRC government has not readied any robust vaccination or even public education program to fill the vacuum left in the wake of Zero Covid, reliable data about infections is no longer available since government-mandated mass-testing has been dropped and people are being told to self-test at home, and Xi Jinping is nowhere to be seen, having snuck out the back door of the monument to his infallibility and PRC governmental superiority he built around his Zero Covid policy.

Xi’s Zero Covid policy has clearly boomeranged on him — and, more tragically, on the Chinese people:

But does the boomerang effect end there? Despite today’s excellent reporting by the Times and recent reporting by other news outlets, the scope of what is happening in China is only dimly understood outside of China. In large part, this is due to the fact that the scope is not well understood in China — except anecdotally and in felt individual experience — due to the heavy curtain of state-media censorship. The scope may be vast …

There are many reasons we should be attending closely to these developments. Humanity and empathy are high among those reasons. But perhaps the most important reason is that this could all come back and boomerang on us again, too. Unchecked spread among a vast, poorly-protected population can easily give rise to a new strain in China that could once again spread throughout the world.

What goes around, comes around. Wuhan Redux? If so, the finger of blame is to be pointed directly at Xi Jinping.

Today’s post shares excellent analyses of the on-going protests in China courtesy of Foreign Affairs:

Across China, people are protesting the country’s strict “zero COVID” policy, in a rare show of dissent against President Xi Jinping’s regime and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The wave of outrage started after a deadly fire in the city of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, killed at least 10 people on November 24. The city has been under lockdown for more than 100 days. Protesters are calling for an end to the zero-COVID policy—but also for greater democracy and even the removal of Xi.

As Yanzhong Huang writes, it has been clear for some time that Xi’s commitment to zero COVID is a risky move. “Having staked enormous political capital on zero COVID,” Chinese officials have had to pursue “excessively harsh measures in an effort to avoid any outbreaks that might embarrass the government.” But “Beijing’s intransigence has come at an escalating cost.”

What could mounting public distrust and discontent mean for Xi’s regime? The country’s punishing lockdowns “could contain the seeds of future political transformation,” Huang writes. If the Chinese government refuses to alter course, it could face a serious crisis of legitimacy. And Xi’s power is already being questioned as never before, Chinese dissident Cai Xia notes. Despite Xi’s outward projection of confidence, his popularity is slipping—while “in the shadows, resentment among CCP elites is rising.”  As demonstrators clash with Chinese authorities across the country, we’ve compiled some of the best recent coverage in Foreign Affairs on how China’s zero-COVID policy is putting the country’s political stability at risk—and what it could mean for Xi and his grip on power. Start reading below.

I am frequently asked questions about Covid in China. The three most commonly posed questions are: (1) how and where did it originate; (2) how is Xi’s Zero-Covid policy faring and (3) what is the reaction in China among both businesspeople and ordinary citizens.

In this post, I’ll take on the first two questions but with the caveat that definitive answers to any of the three questions are almost impossible to arrive at given the complexity of the underlying facts and the fierce political skirmishing over establishing the “truth” of the matter.

I am going to stay above the fray and offer simple generalizations to put each of the first two questions into clear perspective and revealing context. On the second question, I will add substantial commentary from today’s edition of Sinocism by Bill Bishop, which has been well described as “the Presidential Daily Brief for China hands” by Evan Osnos of the New York Times. (Note: Bill Bishop gives his subscribers leave to share, on occasion, content from his newsletter which I am doing for the first time here). For anyone interested in the answer to the third question, I’d say for now that both the business response and popular response is dismal at best but would encourage you to keep an eye out for my fuller response coming soon.

Origins of Covid-19

I am not going to venture where even leading epidemiologists fear to tread but will confine myself to one unassailable truth. The Chinese Government has consistently and systematically denied the world community — both its cadre of scientists and its relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations — access to the sites, data and interviews which would facilitate pinpointing the origins of Covid-19. It may eventually be possible through painstaking DNA regression analysis to pinpoint the origin of Covid-19 with certainty despite this lack of Chinese cooperation. Meanwhile, the glaringly obvious question raised by China’s stance is what is the PRC government trying to hide?

Zero-Covid Thought Control

Ever since Xi Jinping held forth his Zero-Covid policy as the basis for claiming the superiority of “Chinese democracy” over traditional liberal democracy, his adherence to that policy has been “unflinching” and “unswerving.” This was especially apparent in the run-up to the 20th National Party Congress in Beijing last month, even in the face of plummeting economic performance. Emerging from that once-in-five-years leadership shakeup with a plalanx of Standing Committee loyalists in place, Xi acknowledged the economic fall-out and popular discontent by announcing on November 11th some tweaks to enforcement policies under the banner of “optimizing Zero-Covid.” The results of this ‘optimization?’ Today’s infection rate and number of partial lockdowns is, in toto, more widespread and deleterious (see below) than the earlier, traumatic nadir experienced during the Shanghai lockdown last spring. It is ironic, but not altogether surprising, that “the Emperor” insists, as a sop to his pride, that his citizens all change the way they talk and think about his Zero-Covid policy — now “optimized” — rather than that he change the policy meaningfully to ease their personal and economic lives.

Addendum: Extracts from today’s edition of Sinocism on ‘optimized Zero-Covid’

Lockdowns by another name continue in parts of several cities as daily cases are approaching the level of the Shanghai disaster earlier this year. Right now it feels like we are seeing a repeat of Shanghai in late March, when local officials tried targeted and precise measures, before realizing that Omicron overwhelms all those efforts, leaving officials with the choice between letting it start to rip or instituting suffocating lockdowns. Near term I think they will have to choose the latter as they are not where they need to be with vaccinations and hospital capacity. But even then they have a massive problem with virgin immunity, so until they are willing to tolerate larger numbers of serious illness and death, or have better therapeutics, I do not think there is a specific end date. I know it is popular now to say March, pegged to the “two meetings”, but I am not sure why that is really an end date. They really seem stuck.

China lockdowns reach record level as coronavirus cases spiral | Financial Times $$

“China is seeing a record level of lockdowns,” said Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura. “It’s even a bit worse than during the [spring] Shanghai lockdown because so many cities are partially locked down.”

The bank estimates Covid restrictions have hit areas responsible for one-fifth of China’s gross domestic product…

In Chongqing, another pandemic hotspot, the arrival on Monday of Sun Chunlan, a vice-premier known for her draconian approach to battling the pandemic, led to widespread panic shopping among residents, concerned about the potential for a tough Shanghai-style lockdown.

China’s Lockdowns Surge in Week Since Covid Policy Adjusted – Bloomberg

China’s top health officials vowed to stick with Covid Zero at a Tuesday briefing, saying outbreaks across the board remain “severe and complex.” Beijing is telling local governments to implement the updated guidelines, which were outlined in 20 measures earlier this month. Localities shouldn’t be excessive when it comes to Covid controls, but they also shouldn’t loosen too much either, said Mi Feng, spokesperson of the National Health Commission.

Beiijng Daily – 尹力:坚定坚决打赢疫情防控整体战阻击战歼灭战 实现防住疫情稳住经济安全发展-千龙网·中国首都网

Party Secretary Yin Li: Yin Li: Firmly and resolutely win the overall war of epidemic prevention and control, the war of resistance and annihilation, realize the prevention of epidemic situation and stabilize the development of economic security.

Comment: “歼灭战”, literally “war/battle of annihilation” seems hard to win with piecemeal shutdowns. Hearing that some beijing cadres issuing localized lockdown orders verbally only not going to inspire confidence in the “optimization” of dynamic zero-Covid on the road to reopening. why are they hiding it? from whom are they trying to hide it?

China vows to enhance medical resources, crack down on excessive approaches amid severest COVID outbreak in 3 years – Global Times

The ongoing epidemic is witnessing growing infections. The average daily new cases this week reached 22,200, nearly double last week’s level, Hu Xiang, an official of the national epidemic prevention and control bureau, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Hu noted that the epidemic, which has hit many provinces and regions, showed complex transmission chains. Some provinces are facing the severest and most complicated epidemic in the past three years.

Densely populated cities like Guangzhou in South China’s Guangdong Province and Southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality are epicenters of the ongoing outbreaks, as the large population, high personnel mobility and frequent gatherings in key spots like schools increased the risk of epidemic transmission and the difficulty of putting the epidemic under control, according to Hu…

Citing experts who closely follow the situation of China’s epidemic, some media outlets predicted on Tuesday that this round of the epidemic would continue to expand until the middle of December.

新京报 – 北京疾控:2例重症病例未接种加强针 老人接种率偏低

Beijing official: two seriously ill Beijing patients, one 52 and the other 89, did not get the booster shot and the booster rate for those over 60 is low and for those over 80 is not even 30% 例新冠肺炎重症感染者分别为52岁和89岁,均未接种加强针, 30% 60岁及以上感染者全程和加强免疫接种率均偏低,80岁及以上感染者加强免疫接种率不足30%

新京报 – 24日起进入市属公园等须持48小时内核酸阴性证明

According to the requirements of epidemic prevention and control in Beijing, starting from November 24th, residents and visitors must hold a negative nucleic acid test certificate within 48 hours to visit the municipal parks and the National Botanical Garden.



China should optimize and adjust its COVID control measures, depending on how the pandemic situation evolves domestically and beyond its borders, a page-one Economic Daily commentary said. Still, it said COVID control is a daunting and long-term endeavor, and that officials must not slack in implementing related measures to contain outbreaks. The pieces quote Xi from his comments to the Wuhan delegation at the delayed NPC meeting in May 2020 – “针尖大的窟窿能漏过斗大的风” – a hole the size of a needlepoint can let in a huge wind”. So how are officials supposed to respond, when they are being reminded that even the slightest slackening can lead to an outbreak? They have seemingly impossible and contradictory tasks

Outbreaks Test China’s Efforts to Limit the Cost of ‘Zero Covid’ – The New York Times

“It’s maybe 10 steps forward and nine steps back,” said Chen Long, a policy analyst at Plenum, a Beijing consulting firm…

Citizens will only be reassured, said Wang Xiangwei, a Beijing commentator and newsletter ( Wang Xiangwei’s Thought of the Day on China) writer, when trusted health experts appear on television to discuss the lack of severity of the Omicron variant for those who have been vaccinated, particularly young people who also have strong immune systems. A possible candidate, he said, was Zhong Nanshan, who helped uncover the SARS outbreak in 2003 and played a key role in drawing national attention to the initial Covid outbreak in Wuhan nearly three years ago.


After several recent outbreaks at colleges and Universities, The the Ministry of Education held two meetings this month to make plans to prevent the relaxation of prevention and control in the name of “optimization”


The National Health and Health Commission has made it clear that emergency rooms, dialysis rooms, operating rooms, delivery rooms and intensive care units are not to be shut unless necessary.


The National Health and Health Commission reiterated that it is very important for fever clinics to stay open.

Comment: Officials have really upped the rhetoric on ensuring that people have access to medical care even if there are lockdowns


Xinhua on the key takeaways from the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council presser, concludes with:

In the affected areas, medical institutions at risk of the epidemic should not be “shut down” or “locked down” under the pretext of epidemic prevention and control, especially emergency rooms, dialysis rooms, operating rooms, delivery rooms, and intensive care units in medical institutions. These important departments should be “not sealed up and controlled unnecessarily” to ensure the treatment of patients. It is possible to minimize the impact of epidemic prevention and control on the daily medical services of medical institutions and meet the needs of the people for medical treatment.


11.22 People’s Daily “Zhong Yin” on epidemic control and prevention work – 深入细致做好服务保障工作

The relationship between epidemic prevention and control, normal production and life, and economic and social development is complementary and dialectically unified. To better respond to and resolve the reasonable demands of the masses and solve the practical difficulties of the people is not only an inherent requirement to adhere to the supremacy of the people and life, but also the right thing to do to firmly implement the general policy of “dynamic zero-Covid”. The struggle against the epidemic in the past three years has profoundly revealed to us that only when the epidemic can be prevented can people’s lives be safe and secure; The only way to effectively coordinate epidemic prevention and control with economic and social development is to take concrete measures to reduce the negative impact of the epidemic and ensure sustained, healthy and stable economic and social development with good results.


Coronavirus in China: ‘critical moment’ for Beijing with cases at record high | South China Morning Post

The government also encouraged residents in Chaoyang district to “slow down their lives” at a press conference on Tuesday, asking them to not leave the district unless absolutely necessary, use online learning, online meetings and telephone communications to reduce visits to schools and offices.

CCTV – 上海:24日起,抵沪不满5天者不得进入公共场所_新闻频道_央视网(

Starting 11.24, people who have been in Shanghai for less than 5 days are not allowed to enter public spaces

Chinese regulators warn IPOs of zero-Covid winners subject to tight checks | Financial Times $$

Chinese regulators have warned that a wave of initial public offerings from companies claiming to be involved in China’s booming Covid-19 testing sector will be subject to added scrutiny over concerns that their high growth is unsustainable.

Zhengzhou Community Blasts Warning over Loudspeaker: Outside Visitors Will Be “Executed on the Spot” | What’s on Weibo

According to Chinese media outlets, a community staff member later suggested that this was a non-official, self-initiated move by the property management and that it has since been corrected.

China Economy Braces for Major Disruption into Next Year as Covid Cases Surge – Bloomberg

The path to reopening “may be slow, painful and bumpy,” the Nomura economists wrote in a note, suggesting a “back and forth” approach as rising cases stir reluctance among policymakers to ease curbs quickly. Nomura forecasts gross domestic product growth of 4.3% for 2023, lower than a median estimate of 4.9% in a Bloomberg survey.

Caixin – China Fleshes Out ‘Optimized’ Covid-19 Response

On Monday, China reported two Covid-related deaths, one in Henan province and one in Sichuan province, after Beijing recorded three virus-related deaths over the weekend.

Beijing shuts parks, museums as China’s Covid-19 cases rise | The Straits Times

The municipality of Tianjin near Beijing on Tuesday became the latest to order citywide testing, after a similar announcement on Sunday by the northern city of Shijiazhuang.

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