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China and Covid19

Weibo Discussions: What is the Way Forward for China’s Zero-Covid Policy?

Political commentator Hu Xijin about China’s zero-Covid Policy: ” This fight is bound to be like navigating a boat against the current.”

Manya Koetse

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Over the past few weeks, while various regions across China have been dealing with a surge in new Covid cases and ongoing local lockdowns, there have been more online discussions regarding the future of China’s zero-Covid policy.

Facing another local outbreak and lockdown, people in Shenzhen’s Shawei in the city’s Futian District clashed with local officers on September 26. People were chanting: “Lift the Covid lockdown!”

The well-known Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), former editor-in-chief of state tabloid Global Times, published a lengthy post on his Weibo account on Monday, focusing on the current discussions surrounding China’s Covid policies.

Hu Xijin

In his post, Hu explained the perspectives of people on both sides of the Covid debate, and why many people want China to ‘open up’ while there are also those who are still defending China’s prevention and control measures to contain the virus.

Hu also argued that more experts should come forward with suggestions and views based on science in order for the online discourse to focus more on science and rationality rather than letting the discussions be dominated by loud voices on social media.

 

This is a (loose) translation of the full text in Hu Xijin’s post (translation by What’s on Weibo):

 

“The epidemic has had an influence on all Chinese people, and it has affected the face of China’s current economic and social operations in all areas. Recently, however, there have been fewer reasonable discussions on epidemic prevention policies. Many experts have gone silent while the slogans thrown around on the internet are increasing, and they’re all opposing each other. This public opinion environment is evidently not constructive regarding China’s next steps in the fight against the epidemic, and it certainly doesn’t help to create a realistic response to the continuous changes in the epidemic.”

“I’m not an epidemic expert, but I hope to contribute by promoting rational discussions on epidemic prevention. Let me first go through the two main types of views right now of those calling for “liberalization” and those opposing it.”

“The view of the “liberalization” group: it has been proven that Omikron and its variants simply cannot be contained, and there is overwhelming evidence that these variants already have a lower mortality rate than influenza. Lockdowns in various areas, especially the long ones, severely restrict people’s freedom and are detrimental to physical and mental health. The constant “static management”* (静态管理) everywhere has severely impacted the economy and had led to business closures, unemployment, and depression. Long-term lockdowns and control have also led to China being more shut-off and isolated from the rest of the world. In short, they argue that China holding on to a policy of prevention and control along with the rest of the world is a choice that China should and must make.” [*a type of ‘lockdown’ that still allows some essential businesses and public services to stay open.]

“The view of opponents of “liberalization”: they argue that it is a fact that the epidemic is not over, and that there is no certainty that the virus will continue to weaken – there is still a possibility that the virus will become stronger again. The countries that “let go” [of Covid measures] were forced to do so. But if China opens up, all previous efforts might go to waste and we could face an immense wave of hundreds of thousands of deaths; it would create a serious strain on our healthcare and cause a humanitarian disaster. Although China is currently facing short-term difficulties, the past three years of the epidemic have shown that overall the economic costs of China’s epidemic prevention have been relatively low. We must persevere now, and when the time is ripe we won’t be too late to “liberalize” and, considering everything, another six months or so won’t really matter. It is also not necessarily true that the economy will jump back up once we open up. So many countries across the world have opened up but there are few where the economy is actually doing well. When there are viruses everywhere, there will be a lot of households with elderly people and young children that will stay away from public places. In most areas in China, on the other hand, they are going out without any worries, which supports consumption. They say that China is harming itself by isolating from the world, [but] China’s foreign trade has actually increased since the pandemic and not decreased. A part of foreign trade is experiencing temporary and specific challenges but that does not apply to the overall situation and the reality is that the world’s demand for China is growing.”

“It is worth noting that most of those opposing China ‘opening up’ generally also oppose the arbitrary implementation of “static management” and excessive epidemic prevention, arguing that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ kind of epidemic prevention is a manifestation of local officials in epidemic areas trying to protect official bureaucracy. “

“Overall, there is a political atmosphere surrounding the online discussions on epidemic prevention, and the viewpoints of the people whose voices are the loudest are highlighted. I think this is a bad trend, and we should stop it. I believe that experts should come forward more and publish their suggestions to bring the epidemic discussion back to the realm of science and reason. Even if we can’t completely do it, we should strive to do so.”

 

“Countries across the world have collectively lost the battle and have accepted the natural consequences of the Covid pandemic, including deaths and Long Covid. Only China is still fighting.”

 

“In order to advocate [China’s] “liberalization,” we must find reliable answers to some crucial questions. The death rate of Omicron is low, but the infection rate is high, so the overall death total is still not radically reduced – even in America every day a few hundred people are still dying because of it, – how can we solve this problem? When fever and severe cough is all around us, even if it’s not deadly, entire families might fear for the lives of the elderly and their children once they find themselves in such a situation, and everyone will rush to the hospital. How do we prevent our medical systems from becoming overwhelmed? And what’s actually going on regarding Long Covid? The UK has two million cases of Long Covid and the US has around four million cases, it is affecting the quality of life for many people, how do we see this problem? And in case we “open up,” how would it affect the number of people still coming to shopping malls, subway stations, restaurants, and cinemas? China is not like American and European societies, the public’s mental state is relatively fragile. We need experts to come up with credible predictions and measures that can be taken.”

“Those who oppose the easing of preventive and control measures should respond to these kinds of questions: how would we solve the constant ‘static management’ [lockdows] in some regions? How do we address the problems of the travel flow between regions not being smooth and the disruption of supply chains in production areas? Would it be possible for us to achieve, over time, a mature upgrade of the prevention and control system while avoiding widespread lockdowns and obstruction of domestic travel?”

“Omicron is a big problem for humanity, and the reality is that countries across the world have collectively lost the battle and have accepted the natural consequences of the Covid pandemic, including deaths and Long Covid. Only China is still fighting. But this fight is bound to be like navigating a boat against the current. We need to let the whole society grasp the difficulty of this battle, make them understand how hard it is for the country to make “and/and” [both economy and public health-related] strategic decisions to safeguard the interests of 1.4 billion people. There will not be an easy way to solve all the issues and eliminate all systematic problems. China can only constantly weigh in the pros and cons to find the way with the least relative disadvantages. I believe that if we talk things through, although there will always be complaints in the public opinion arena, everyone or at least the majority of people will eventually understand the good intentions and necessity of the country’s strategic decisions, and our society as a collective will continue to keep up with the state policies ahead.”

The post, which received over 55,000 likes, also got many responses.

One popular comment said: “I don’t oppose the epidemic prevention, I oppose how ‘one solution fits all’! As quickly as possible we should push for [local] Health Code apps to recognize each other and stop with making people isolate and stay home in low-risk areas.”

Some people appreciated Hu’s post and were glad that it explicitly stated some issues that are usually not mentioned in official discourse on China’s Covid battle. “Finally someone is admitting that the virus won’t go away,” one commenter said.

But there were also people who thought Hu Xijin was missing some points. One person responded: “The grievances of the people are so deep, yet no official has spoken out, do they think the voices of the people are not important at all?” Another person mentioned: “It’s not that the experts are silent; they are afraid to speak up.” Some asked: “Who has made them go silent?”

 

“Is our epidemic prevention really still about preventing the epidemic?”

 

Another Weibo user mentioned that it is not about control versus freedom in China’s Covid fight, but about excessive measures – not too long ago, news that authorities in Xiamen were also doing Covid tests on fish and crabs made its rounds on Weibo: “Isn’t excessive prevention the biggest waste of energy? They’ve opened up in foreign countries for so long, aren’t they the best example? Don’t you want to believe the people? Why are we still worried about Chinese people having a frail mental state? Let’s hurry up and stop this laughable excessive epidemic prevention, we’re all tired.”

“Is our epidemic prevention really still about preventing the epidemic?” others wondered.

There were many people who agreed with this, and one of the top comments said: “I don’t support opening up completely, but I oppose excessive epidemic control, and this is a view that is held by most Chinese.”

Online discussions on the future of China’s Covid policies first started flaring up during the Shanghai lockdown in April of this year, when people started posing questions on why people who barely show any Covid symptoms should still be quarantined at centralized quarantine locations, fearing cross-infection or re-infection due to the crowded and sometimes chaotic living conditions.

At the time, more Chinese officials and experts started emphasizing the importance of sticking to the “dynamic zero-COVID strategy” as the best way forward for China, meaning rapidly responding to new Covid cases, precise prevention measures, and controlling and extinguishing local outbreaks as fast as possible to avoid further spread of the virus and drastically reduce the number of people getting sick.

In order to “amplify authoritative voices” to weigh in on this kind of discussions, Weibo launched its Hongru Open Media Plan (#鸿儒-媒体开放计划#) earlier in 2022, using it as a platform to highlight ‘expert’ opinions.

China’s leading experts on Covid-19, including the renowned scientists Zhong Nanshan (钟南山), Zhang Wenhong (张文宏), and Li Lanjuan (李兰娟), have published and spoken up about the virus and the epidemic situation in China throughout the years.

In a recent interview, Chinese epidemiologist Li Lanjuan said that Covid-19 is a ‘Type B’ infectious disease that is currently managed as a ‘Type A’ infectious disease in China. Type A includes the plague and cholera, while infectious diseases classified as Type B are less severe and include bird flu, malaria, polio, and AIDS.

Li suggested that the management of Covid-19 would, in time, also shift to a ‘Type B’ management system and that Covid-19 will have less of an impact on people’s lives. A Weibo hashtag related to the topic was later taken offline.

Not long after, a hashtag titled ‘How Long Will ‘Dynamic Zero’ Go On?’ (#动态清零政策将持续多久#) was published on Weibo by China Youth Daily, referring to a press conference on September 7 where this question was asked by a foreign reporter. Although Chang Jile (常继乐), deputy director of the National Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention, did not give a concrete answer to the question, he emphasized that scientific research on Covid-19 is still ongoing and that China’s prevention and control measures are still “the most economical and the most effective.”

In the Weibo comment sections, one person wrote: “Still no answers. How long will this go on?”

Read more about Covid in China here.
Read more about Hu Xijin here.

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by Fusion Medical Animation.

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Chinese Commentator Hu Xijin Expects to “Get Covid Within a Month” (and Why It Matters)

This Hu Xijin commentary can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere.

Manya Koetse

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Hu Xijin (胡锡进), the Beijing-based retired editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, recently published a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo about him getting mentally ready to be infected with Covid-19 soon.

The former journalist Hu, whose posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinion, also made a few other noteworthy comments.

On Sunday (Dec 4), Hu posted: “Over the past week, China has essentially ended widespread lockdowns, with places like Beijing and others beginning to allow home quarantine for many positive individuals, while reducing the scope of nucleic acid testing. These are amazing changes.”

Four weeks ago, right before China introduced its twenty new Covid measures, Hu already argued that strict lockdowns are no longer sustainable and that China should aim for a more relaxed and local approach (which is exactly what happened).

Now, Hu Xijin says that he is “mentally preparing to be infected with Covid within the coming month” (“做好了在一个月之内被感染上的思想准备”), further writing:

In order for young people to have a colorful young era, in order to save the livelihood of so many service industry workers, in order for people from all walks of life to avoid seeing their wages cut, in order for so many companies to get out of their predicaments, this 62-year-old ‘Old Hu’ is willing to participate in the risk of getting [a virus that] degenerated to only 2.5 per 10,000 rate of getting seriously ill.”

Hu’s post was published on December 2nd in the context of Hu Says, a regular video column by Hu Xijin.

A few months ago, such a comment coming from such a big account would have been unthinkable.

In May of this year, those who tested positive still complained about suffering from stigmatization in society.

But Hu’s comments come at a time when there are more discussions about getting Covid and sharing the experiences of having Covid.

In the second week of November, shortly after Chinese authorities launched their updated Covid rules, the hashtag “What Is It Like to Catch Covid-19?” (#感染新冠是什么体验#) already went trending on Weibo, along with other hashtags informing Chinese netizens about what it’s like to get Covid – a virus that so many in China never experienced first hand.

Since Hu Xijin (1960) ended his career as the editor-in-chief of Global Times in 2021, his role as a political commentator has arguably become even more important and more visible on Weibo than before, especially in China’s challenging Covid times of 2021.

Some find him overly nationalistic, for others he is not nationalistic enough; there are those who find him reasonable, and then some say he is repetitive and just dancing to the tune of Party propaganda. But then there have also been some discussions – in light of Pelosi’s controversial Taiwan visit – about Hu misleading public opinion by not matching the official stance.

Whichever it is, some things are certain: Hu has some 25 million followers on Weibo, and he is often the first major media account that is allowed to discuss in detail some major sensitive social topics, even if these online discussions are otherwise being tightly controlled (think of the Tangshan BBQ Restaurant incident, the future of zero Covid, the Urumqi fire, and the 11.24 protests across China.)

Hu’s comments about ‘catching Covid soon’ can be seen as part of a wider trend of normalizing Covid in the Chinese online media sphere, preparing people to face a virus they are still unfamiliar with since ‘zero Covid’ has always been the main goal.

On December 3, Hu further clarified his comments about preparing to getting Covid. He explained he expects to catch the virus because he is active in the media environment, through which he unavoidably is in touch with many different people. He also promised that if he might get infected, he would share his Covid experience with all of his readers.

As the idea of catching Covid is becoming more normalized (there are more and more trending hashtags informing what to expect after getting Covid, e.g. #新冠发病7天内身体会发生什么变化#), people are also exchanging non-scientifical advice on how to prevent catching Covid, such as drinking licorice ginger soup, holding Sichuan peppercorns inside your mouth when going out, or getting silicon covers for the drains in the bathroom to prevent the virus coming through via neighboring apartments.

Some express their worries about catching the virus. “I’m really scared. I’ve already replaced all of my masks with K95 ones,” one Weibo user wrote: “My immune system has been weak since I was little, and I have allergies. I have the feeling that if I get infected I might lose half my life, if I don’t die (..) I’m in a state of panic.”

Even though China is still far from ‘opening up’, some people are already preparing to ‘live together with the virus,’ reminding others that getting vaccinated, keeping social distance, and washing hands are all measures that will help in preventing getting Covid.

“I am worried about getting Covid but I also want to open up,” some on Weibo said.

“As much as I wanted it all to end, this feels abrupt,” one social media user from Inner Mongolia wrote: “It won’t be the same as before. The thorough ‘zero Covid’ [policy] has gone. The country’s protection of our health has gone up to this point. I hope everyone can now take care in prevention themselves, and protect themselves and their families. I hope the epidemic situation will end soon, that the world will be ok, and that we can have our freedom.”

Meanwhile, Hu Xijin informed netizens on Saturday that he had some milk, boiled eggs, pastry and pickled mustard greens for breakfast. While working on his condition and nutrition, he says that if his Covid positive time comes, he will not get any VIP treatment. If allowed, he’ll either recover from home or go to a centralized Covid location.

He will just have to wait and see what happens, just as millions of other Chinese citizens are waiting to see what this winter is going to bring.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

The featured images are all images that went viral recently in light of China opening up (including nucleic acid testing booths being taken away).

 

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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse

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On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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