Shanghai hospital pays the price for China's COVID response
BEIJING (AP) — A series of deaths at a hospital for elderly patients in Shanghai is underscoring the dangerous consequences of China's stubborn pursuit of a zero-COVID approach amid an escalating outbreak in the city of 26 million people. Multiple patients have died at the Shanghai Donghai Elderly Care hospital, relatives of patients told The Associated Press. They say their loved ones weren’t properly cared for after caretakers who came into contact with the virus were taken away to be quarantined, in adherence to the strict pandemic regulations, depleting the hospital of staff.
The stories from Shanghai, a city of 25 million entering its fourth week of COVID-19 lockdown, have been harrowing. © Provided by LA Times A medical worker takes a swab from a resident in Shanghai last month. (Xinhua News Agency)
Millions have been confined to their homes, their movements monitored by pandemic police in white hazmat suits. Almost 300,000 people who’ve tested positive or had contact with someone positive have been forcibly moved to spartan quarantine centers.
Videos on social media have shown people fighting over food or screaming for help from their apartment windows: “Save us! We don’t have enough to eat!”
Shanghai's chaotic Covid lockdown puts other Chinese cities on edge
As Shanghai's Covid-19 lockdown leaves residents struggling to access food or medical care, citizens elsewhere in China fear similar measures are heading their way -- even as officials try to assure them they are well prepared.In the southern port city of Guangzhou, where all 18 million residents faced mandatory testing after a handful of infections were found last week, officials stressed that food and other supplies were well taken care of -- despite one local paper reporting shortages at supermarkets due to "panic buying.
Police took children who tested positive and sequestered them, away from their parents, in state-run hospitals — a policy reversed only after an outcry from distraught mothers.
For over two years, China’s response to the pandemic has been the draconian approach known as “zero COVID.” It succeeded in stopping the virus’ spread in 2020, when no vaccines existed and exposure was more often fatal.
Now, though, most infections stem from the relatively mild Omicron variant, and an enviable 88% of people in China are fully vaccinated. Shanghai has reported more than 220,000 COVID cases since March 1 but has officially acknowledged no deaths from the surge.
Still, the government’s response has been total lockdown.
The result has been the needless disruption of millions of lives and a blow to the world’s second-largest economy, with effects that will ripple across the world.
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BRNO, Czech Republic (AP) — Of the first four shots Olha Dembitska fired from an AK-47 assault rifle in her life, one hit the target. “It’s pretty difficult the first time,” the 22-year-old Ukrainian woman acknowledged. On this occasion, the target was the shape of a human body at a shooting range in the Czech Republic. Next time, it might be for real, in Ukraine, and the target could be one of the Russian troops who have invaded her homeland. © Provided by Associated Press An instructor trains Ukrainian nationals at a shooting range in Brno, Czech Republic, Sunday April 10, 2022.
The damage is impossible to estimate with any accuracy, but big enough that Premier Li Keqiang warned publicly last week that the economy faces “unexpected challenges and mounting downward pressures.”
In Greater Shanghai, China’s economic capital, workers cannot reach their jobs. Construction projects have halted. Assembly lines for Tesla, Volkswagen, Apple and other major brands have suspended operations.
Supply chains are in chaos. Truck and train traffic have plunged. And according to unofficial reports, hundreds of container ships are stuck unloaded in the region’s ports.
The problems aren’t confined to Shanghai. Japan’s Nomura Bank reported last week that 45 Chinese cities, with almost 400 million inhabitants total, were in some form of lockdown.
The government in Beijing hasn’t changed its official target of 5.5% growth for 2022, but economists say that number looks unattainable now.
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While the latest wave of coronavirus infections seems to have peaked over the weekend, infections in Shanghai still account for over 93 percent of all cases in China. Despite recording more than 150,000 cases in the past month and bringing the entire metropolis to a standstill, Shanghai has reported only one patient in serious condition, while the official death toll from the latest COVID outbreak remains at zero. Newsweek was unable to independently verify anecdotal social media accounts of residents who are said to have died as a result of being denied critical care for other illnesses.
Until recently, many Americans thought of China as a juggernaut that would soon overtake the United States to become the largest economy in the world — a meaningless landmark, but one that comes with bragging rights.
Two years ago, the Japan Center for Economic Research predicted that the crossover point would come in 2029. Last month the think tank revised its projection to 2033, four years later.
In the face of all that adverse data, you might expect China’s leaders to soften the zero COVID policy for the sake of economic growth. That’s what has happened, at least tacitly, in the United States, where the Biden administration has relaxed its COVID recommendations in view of the diminished threat of fatalities.
Not in China.
“Prevention and control work cannot be relaxed,” President Xi Jinping said last week. “Persistence is victory.”
The problem is political: Zero COVID has been one of Xi’s signature policies, and he doesn’t appear interested in diluting it — especially as he approaches a Communist Party Congress this fall that is expected to award him a third five-year term.
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The latest instalment in an anti-American editorial series by the People's Daily paints the United States as a country wreaking havoc on the international order.In Monday's People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s flagship paper, a page 3 editorial continues an anti-American series by "Zhong Sheng," the Chinese leadership's pen name when writing on international affairs. Part 10 of the series declares: "U.S. is trampling on international order by stoking bloc confrontation.
“We often think of China’s political system as adaptive and decentralized, but under Xi’s strongman politics it’s neither of those things,” Susan Shirk, a China expert at UC San Diego, told me. “Xi sometimes make mistakes, but nobody dares to tell him. Instead, there’s a bandwagon effect; party subordinates often overshoot, because they want to stand out as the most loyal.”
In a democratic country, a leader would worry about bad economic news in the middle of a reelection campaign.
Xi doesn’t have that problem; there’s no sign of a challenge to him from the party ranks.
Besides, this year’s economic slowdown, which began even before the lockdown in Shanghai, is probably only a short-term problem.
But Xi still faces a long-term economic challenge. His larger goal is to move China into the ranks of advanced high-income countries.
Since Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 1970s, China has grown prosperous thanks largely to low-wage export manufacturing and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of workers.
But one of Xi’s core promises is that a modernizing economy will deliver higher wages. Meanwhile, China’s population — and its workforce — are projected to shrink, a product of its old “one-child” policy.
“They need to develop a new growth model,” Aaron L. Friedberg, a China scholar at Princeton University, told me. “Xi’s answer has been to try to leap ahead in technology and increase workers’ productivity as they lose their low-wage advantage.”
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The treasury secretary offered her strongest remarks yet as China showed no signs of moving away from Russia, 50 days into its invasion of Ukraine.The Biden administration's veteran economist gave her sharpest assessment yet of what she described as countries "sitting on the fence" of Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine, a conflict she said has "redrawn the contours of the world economic outlook" and also upended decades of UN-centered international principles.
But he faces a potential political contradiction.
“They’re betting that they can be just as innovative as we are while keeping the flow of information under control inside the country,” said Friedberg, author of “Getting China Wrong,” a new book on U.S.-China policy. “It’s not clear that it’s going to work.”
Meanwhile, he said, Xi is employing another time-honored device to bolster domestic support for his regime, even in the face of an economic downturn: unbridled nationalism.
“The regime has deliberately ratcheted up the sense of antagonism between China and the West,” Friedberg said. “And it’s actually been quite successful at that.”
When China accuses the United States of being at fault for Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, he said, Americans and the Biden administration aren’t its main audience.
“I don’t think it’s aimed at us,” he said. “It’s aimed at the domestic audience and at the developing world — showing that China is emerging as the leader of the global south, willing to stand up to the West.”
Russia’s war in Ukraine will end someday. When that happens, China — with its economic challenges and its ambitions of international leadership — will reassume its status as the most important global rival to the United States.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Dozens of COVID Deaths Unreported in China's Shanghai Lockdown: Report .
Shanghai has an official COVID death toll of seven, the last of which was recorded more than two years ago. The BBC this week said at least 27 unvaccinated patients at a single hospital had their cause of death listed as "underlying health problems," according to official documents. It spoke to hospital staff and saw correspondence sent to relatives of the deceased throughout the current COVID outbreak, said its report on Saturday.