In the wake of protests in multiple Chinese cities over the weekend, the country's National Health Commission (NHC) held a press conference on Tuesday urging the expedited implementation of the 20 measures announced on November 11 that initiated the lifting of the country's Zero-COVID policy, which has contained numerous outbreaks over the past three years.
Mi Feng, the spokeswoman for the National Health Commission (NHC), stated in an article published by the state-owned Global Times that "anti-outbreak management should be lifted in a timely manner to reduce the discomfort caused by the epidemic to the public."
Cheng emphasized that the "twenty actions" are "backed by appropriate scientific basis and proof" and are intended to eradicate COVID-19 outbreaks, yet the official numbers speak for themselves. Over the previous week, China has consistently established new daily records for the number of COVID-19 infections, with a modest decrease to 38,421 official new cases reported on Tuesday.
While still low by international standards, the easing of formerly effective measures—mass testing and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine guidelines, lockdowns, and strict border management—poses a very real risk of an escalation of mass infections and deaths in a nation of 1.4 billion people.
In implicit awareness of the dangers, the NHC is pushing for the vaccination of the elderly, who are especially vulnerable due to low vaccination rates. However, vaccination alone has not been able to stop the horrifying outbreak of diseases and deaths in other nations.
Significantly, the Global Times made no mention of the relatively minor middle-class protests that occurred over the weekend in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang Province, following an apartment fire on Thursday. Protests in as many as 18 places numbered in the hundreds, and in some cases potentially the low thousands, and were fueled in part by obviously false accusations that anti-COVID regulations caused the 10 terrible deaths in the fire.
The primary subject of the protests was the demand for "freedom" from COVID limitations, which has been taken up by US and Western media in a veritable avalanche of propaganda demanding an end to China's Zero-COVID policy. The protests represent an ongoing, reactionary campaign among primarily middle-class layers on social media in China denouncing Zero-COVID regulations and highlighting their absence in the rest of the globe while disregarding the devastating repercussions and enormous death tolls that have ensued.
The protests were not spontaneous. One rally in Shanghai, for instance, was organized via Telegram on social media, with a message inviting participants to contact the New York Times, CNN, and Associated Press, as well as the anti-communist Epoch Times and CIA-affiliated Radio Free Asia.
Videos of some of the protests show residents criticizing the demonstrators and opposing their requests for an end to Zero-COVID restrictions. This is far from the voice of the Chinese people.
Rather than make a political defense of the Zero-COVID policy, which has kept infection and mortality rates per capita among the lowest in the world, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government and state-owned media have remained silent on the protests. The torrent of propaganda in the foreign press has also gone unanswered.
Yesterday, when asked about the protests during a Foreign Ministry briefing, spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated that Chinese citizens have rights and freedoms, but that these had to be "executed within the confines of the law."
Along with Tuesday's NHC briefing, the stony official quiet on the protests is another evidence that the Chinese government is gradually embracing the same illegal "let it rip" approach as the United States and other nations. As it transitions away from Zero-COVID, the last thing the dictatorship desires is a public debate about a policy that has been broadly and patiently supported by the vast majority of the populace despite its limits and personal difficulties.
The affluent, self-centered middle-class strata's appeals for "freedom" stand in stark contrast to the position of the working class. Thousands of workers at Foxconn's massive factory in Zhengzhou demonstrated last week in response to the company's unmet promises on pay and bonuses, as well as awful working and living conditions, and its failure to protect its employees from COVID-19 infections appropriately.
An article in yesterday's Asia Times titled "Protests hasten Chinese exit from zero-Covid policy" cited unnamed Chinese sources as saying that decisions to relax the Zero-COVID policy were made before the CCP's 20th Congress, but "with omicron cases soaring and protests threatening to spiral out of control, the matter has become more pressing."
The story stated, "According to sources, Beijing will officially declare the end of the pandemic and reclassify COVID as an endemic infectious disease in the course of January. This is earlier than originally scheduled."
Major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Zhengzhou are already implementing what the National Health Commission (NHC) refers to as "new optimised measures" that signal the end of city-wide lockdowns that effectively contained outbreaks in the past in favor of limited, localized lockdowns.
The lowering of Zero-COVID in China is not due to the failure of this policy, as experts in Western media have often asserted, but rather to the constraints of the national framework within which it was implemented.
Repeated waves of infections in China are the direct outcome of allowing the virus to spread unchecked through populations in the rest of the world, infecting billions and killing millions of people while creating a breeding environment for new, more contagious, and immune-resistant strains.
The Chinese government is yielding to the same immense pressures to allow the virus to ravage Chinese citizens that have caused countries such as New Zealand and Vietnam to forsake regulations that effectively halted viral transmission. The CCP, which has presided over decades of capitalism restoration, represents powerful corporate interests that insist profits take precedence over workers' health and lives.
It is interesting that Zhengzhou, the location of the Foxconn facility, also known as iPhone City, was one of the first cities to further relax anti-COVID rules. Today, the city will replace so-called mobility controls, i.e. lockdowns, with "regular COVD-combating measures," i.e. the new limited "20 measures." Apple has been anxious to overcome acute labor shortages at the Foxconn facility to increase production of the newest iPhone model in time for the holiday shopping season.