Lockdown Shanghai: The Broken City

people in protective suits

Photo: Aly Song/Reuters

Millions of people are locked up, the distribution of food is faltering: the ugly face of the Chinese regime is showing in Shanghai.

Dhe young woman in Shanghai is hiding behind the locked apartment door. She wants to use her smartphone to document the impending catastrophe. “The epidemic control agency had promised that they would first check my test results before doing anything,” she calls helplessly into the hallway, where the police officers are already loudly approaching. Then you can see how one of the officers, without hesitation, kicks in the wooden door with nine powerful kicks. Like a tiger on the hunt, the man, dressed in a white body suit, rushes towards his victim. The Chinese woman is finally dragged into one of the countless isolation camps.

For more than a month it has held worldwide biggest lockdown in the world now on. What is happening in Shanghai also reveals in an impressive way how far the Chinese government is inferior Xi Jinping willing to go to achieve their political goals. Because the fight against the virus has long since become a propaganda battle, in which the well-being of the population is increasingly used only as an excuse.

Rather, it is about proving what the government has been drumming into its citizens every day for the past two years: that China is the only country in the world that manages to keep its country virus-free. “Zero Covid” has become a symbol for the supposed superiority of its own system over the West. And now it threatens to turn into the opposite: the epidemiological zero-tolerance strategy relentlessly exposes the weaknesses of the dictatorship.

“This is broadband damage for the economy, which is partly in free fall,” says Jörg Wuttke, President of the European Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. The manager has lived in the country since the 1980s, but the German has never experienced such a rapid change as in recent months: from sunshine optimism to a sad mood in a few weeks.

26 million people locked in their homes

April 1st changed everything. On this day, the authorities lock the nearly 26 million residents of Shanghai in their apartments. The radical lockdown triggered a humanitarian catastrophe that was unthinkable just a few months ago: in the country’s wealthiest city, the food supply collapsed for several weeks, causing even multi-millionaires and bankers to send desperate cries for help on social media.

Quarantine facility in Shanghai

Quarantine facility at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, April 18 Photo: Chinatopix/ap

The curfews mean that asthmatics, diabetics and cancer patients are dying because they are denied access to hospitals. Hundreds of thousands of infected people are being transported against their will to mass camps where hygienic conditions are similar to those in Third World slums.

“Of course I was already aware of what the regime is capable of here. But the last few weeks have proven that once again,” says a European correspondent who has already planned his move from the country. Like him, many foreigners currently just want to leave Shanghai.

Protest slogan from Fudan University students

“This is a university and not a concentration camp”

It doesn’t take long for residents’ frustration and desperation to become more and more open – in scuffles with neighborhood committees, looting of supermarkets and shouting out of windows. When the residents of an apartment complex drew attention to their situation with wooden spoons and pots, the police soon found a guilty scapegoat: “Foreign forces are inciting people in Shanghai to protest against pandemic prevention,” says an official statement.

state propaganda

“Foreigners incite people to protest against prevention”

At Fudan University, one of the country’s elite hotbeds, students have also taken to the barricades. “This is a university and not a concentration camp,” they wrote on the walls of their dorm. When they got together to protest, the authorities quickly shut down internet access on campus and dispatched riot police.

The young Chinese have every reason to revolt. Most universities in Shanghai have been locked down for over two months. Students report that they are not allowed to leave their six-bed rooms for weeks. To this day, their everyday life is determined down to the last detail by the so-called health code that everyone carries with them on their mobile phones: At the University of Shanghai, for example, doctoral students are only allowed to use the washrooms for a few hours every two days.

No corona deaths? It sounds like very reassuring news: for the first time since September 2021, the health authorities did not report a single death related to a corona infection on Monday. But appearances are deceptive. As has been shown since the beginning of the pandemic, the individual daily values ​​are not meaningful. This is especially true after the weekend, when the offices generally transmit less data. The mean value of the week is more helpful for assessing the situation. On Monday, however, the average was still 183 corona deaths.

Fewer intensive care patients A number that is actually optimistic comes from the intensive care units of the hospitals. 1,323 patients still needed medical care there on Monday. The last time there were so few was almost eight months ago, on September 6, 2021. According to the Senate, 4.8 percent of the intensive care beds in Berlin are occupied by corona patients. The country’s warning traffic light has switched to green for the first time since the summer. At the end of last year, during the delta wave, 25 percent of the beds were occupied by patients who were infected with Corona.

Decaying into summer The current number of new corona infections and the hospitalization rate show that the incidence of infection in Germany is declining significantly. Even taking into account the many infected people who remain undiscovered and unreported, the situation in Germany is more relaxed than it was just a few weeks ago. However, it remains unclear how it will develop in the coming months. The prominent virologist Christian Drosten recently reported on Twitter about the apparently more contagious omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa. However, the numbers there have remained low so far. So far, the variants have only rarely been found in Europe. (taz)

In the city’s quarantine camps, inmates have to do without shower rooms. In the huge facilities in which tens of thousands of infected people vegetate, only sinks, rags and plastic buckets remain to clean their own bodies. In the huge hangar halls, people lie on camping beds until, after two negative Covid tests, they are released into their apartments – and locked up there.

No shopping in the supermarket without a test

To prevent a similar tragedy from happening again in the capital, Beijing, the authorities have by no means reconsidered their “zero Covid” strategy. Instead, they take action even earlier. After a total of just 200 corona cases in the Beijing metropolitan area, the local government banned dining in restaurants, closed the cinemas and introduced strict testing requirements. If you can’t show a negative PCR test within the last 48 hours, you won’t even be allowed into the supermarket. In order to prepare for an impending lockdown, practically all residents of the capital have stocked up on food supplies, and some have even bought new freezer compartments and refrigerators.

The older Chinese in particular remain optimistic. “I don’t think there will be a lockdown like in Shanghai,” said Li Dong, 72, who lives in one of the traditional hutong settlements in the city center. He has confidence in the authorities, says the antique dealer: “If the capital falls, what will become of our country?”

Man in protective gear in Beijing

Beijing April 27 Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

President Xi Jinping can find no other answer to this than sealing off and isolating. Why the 68-year-old is so dogmatic about his zero-tolerance strategy has to do with the fact that it worked before. By the beginning of the year, the lockdowns had only affected a fraction of the population and were temporary. The absolute majority of the 1.4 billion Chinese have been able to lead a completely normal everyday life since spring 2020, which is only now slowly being possible again in most parts of the world.

But at the latest with the highly infectious omicron variant, the price of “zero Covid” significantly exceeds its benefits: According to estimates by the Beijing market research institute “Gavekal Dragonomics”, around a quarter of the population was affected by the nationwide curfew in April.

Criticism is rigorously censored

Even Zhong Nanshan, who is considered the country’s leading health expert, recently admitted in an academic publication that the People’s Republic of China could not maintain its “zero Covid” strategy in the long term. But instead of getting involved in a substantive debate on the subject, the 85-year-old’s contribution was simply deleted by the censorship apparatus.

China’s course is inevitably linked to the person of Xi Jinping. He will continue to stubbornly stick to his strategy. China’s chief ideologue has his eye on the Communist Party Congress in the fall, during which he will proclaim his third term in office – the first head of state since Mao Tse-tung. Nothing should endanger the cementing of power, neither critical voices nor an unpredictable virus.

In order for his plan to work, Xi Jinping needs an increasingly totalitarian censorship state. The evening news of state television treats the corona deaths in the USA every day, while China is praised as the land of the blessed. Even scientific articles about a possible opening of the country are erased from social media.

Those Chinese who use illegal VPN software to consume critical information from abroad have already cynically nicknamed Xi “Kaidaoche”: an aging ruler fogged by a cult of personality who is driving his country in reverse against a brick wall. In the case of Mao, what ended up being the traumatic chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Xi Jinping, on the other hand, is in danger of leading his country into an economic recession.

At least in Shanghai, hopes of an end to the lockdown are flickering. The situation seemed to have improved significantly over the weekend. For the first time, the authorities had not reported any local infections outside the designated quarantine areas. Several million people were finally allowed to enter the empty streets.

But a major setback followed on Monday: the national health commission discovered another line of infection outside the cordoned-off areas. At least 58 people were infected there. All of the neighbors of each and every one of them will now be locked back into the apartment for 14 days.

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