Predestined confusion in Shanghai

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Predestined confusion in Shanghai

The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Stopping Shanghai, a city of 26 million people, is only possible because it’s in China. It is hard to imagine what would happen if half of Korea’s population were not allowed to leave their homes. Shanghai seems to be under control. But if you look inside, it is chaos itself.

It was chaotic from the beginning. The lockdown started like a military operation at 5 a.m. on Feb. 28. A Korean resident described the situation: “Around 10 p.m. the night before, the apartment door was opened, and I was told to go outside and buy food. They said a full lockdown will begin the next day. People began to go out to get emergency food. Cars were already lined up outside, just like the evacuation in the war in Ukraine.”

The decision that paralyzed the city was announced just seven hours in advance through a social media account, Shanghai Announcement. When there were rumors about a lockdown, the city government instructed people not to be deceived by ungrounded rumors.

The authorities have been inconsistent since early March. An apartment was shut down on March 2, when a large number of positive cases were found there. A lockdown that was supposed to last a week was extended to two weeks without notice. When residents protested, the lockdown was suddenly lifted for four days. Then, after more cases were confirmed, the city government enforced a lockdown again. “We have been under lockdown for nearly a month,” a Korean resident fumed.

The situation in Shanghai illustrates the chaos of China’s “zero Covid policy.” In the case of the Omicron variant, transmission is rapid, but most cases are mild. While China is concerned of the opportunity cost for maintaining the current blockade-based disease control policy, coronavirus quickly spread around major cities across the country. In the meantime, the vague policy of a “lukewarm lockdown” encouraged the virus spread covertly. Belated extreme measures are backfiring in China.

Locals doubt the lockdown will be lifted on April 5 as scheduled. On the fourth day of lockdown on March 31, the number of positive cases in Shanghai remained at 5,600 a day, not decreasing. It is painstaking that Beijing’s efforts collapsed at once. But what’s more serious than the Omicron variant is the loss of people’s trust with the government due to its inconsistent steps. China is faced with a graver crisis than the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan in December 2020. China’s zero-Covid policy is at a crossroad.
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