Editor’s Note: Matthew Bossons Radii is the online publication based in Shanghai. He is also managing editor. He has been living in China since 2014. This commentary is his opinion. View More opinion The Sunday Review.


Shanghai
The Sunday Review
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In the lead-up to China’s Communist Party Congress last month, watercooler chatter in many offices here focused on a single question: Will the Congress abandon its zero-Covid policy?

It didn’t take long for an answer. In his opening speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to zero-Covid — a stance made all the more inviolable since securing his unprecedented third term.

Zero-Covid is alive, and I can confirm it. In the weeks since Xi’s speech, I’ve had dozens of nucleic acid testsHe cancelled a domestic job trip and saw many colleagues being taken to quarantine or jail at home. (On Friday, China announced limited easing of some measures — though no mention of when the changes would take effect.)

Many Chinese students are returning to remote learning. My 5-year-old daughter is currently on her second week off school since her kindergarten was closed because of restrictions regarding Covid-19. She has been spending more time at home than she does in school in 2022.

Restrictions at a moment’s notice have made it nearly impossible to plan more than 20 minutes ahead of time. This is bad for business, of course, but it also affects ordinary people’s ability to go about their lives — you never know when you might get locked down in your apartment, workplace, a local mall or even Shanghai Disneyland.

People line up last week for Covid-19 screening in a market enclosed by a temporary wall in Guangzhou, China.

Friends who have experienced an unexpected lockdown, or two, have taken to carrying a backpack containing clothes, toiletries, work essentials, and other necessities at all times, in case they become trapped at the local bar.

While I fully agree that China’s hard-line approach to Covid-19 containment has saved lives, the policy’s impacts are beginning to seem worse than the disease.

Economically speaking, all is not well in China, and the situation is at least partially to blame on China’s uncompromising stance on Covid-19.

One fifth of urban youth are unemployed. Business meetings and trade shows are also being held. postponed or canceled, and workplaces are regularly shuttered over concerns about the coronavirus, including the recent lockdown at a Foxconn manufacturing center — which left employees literally fleeing down a highway.

China’s anti-virus measures are becoming increasingly difficult to defend as implementation becomes inconsistent and, at times, downright illogical.

Last week I returned to Shanghai from Guangzhou — a city in southern China dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak — and left the airport without so much as a peep about quarantining or self-isolating.

I walked around Shanghai — riding public transit, sitting maskless in an office, cramming in packed elevators — for three days before public health authorities contacted me and told me I needed to quarantine.

One would assume that flying to a city with a prominent disease outbreak would justify immediate notification of self-isolation upon landing. Alas, not.

But here’s the real kicker: While I needed to stay home for four days, my wife and daughter, who live with me, were allowed to leave the apartment and wander around the city at will. Now, let’s assume I was infected with the virus and that my family were now carriers: Why would a policy intended to protect people’s health “to the greatest extent possible,” To quote Xi.

Most troublingly, I suspect China is on the verge of an explosive mental health crisis caused — or exacerbated —- by the isolation and uncertainty that come with prolonged and unexpected lockdowns.

Counseling services in high demand is up, and nationwide survey Surveys conducted across China in 2020 showed that 35% of respondents experienced psychological distress due to the pandemic.

During Shanghai’s marathon two-month lockdown this year, phones were reportedly ringing off the hook in the offices of mental healthcare specialists. Two people died in my apartment block during the citywide lockdown. There was speculation among our community chat group that this was partly to blame.

Earlier this month, a 55-year-old woman reportedly suffering from anxiety disorders jumped to her death from her locked-down apartment building in the capital city of China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

Her adult daughter could not exit the apartment following her mother’s suicide as the door had allegedly been “welded shut for a month.”

This month also saw the tragic death of a 3-year-old boy who was allegedly harmed by a gas leak at his locked-down home in Lanzhou. On social media, the boy’s father alleged that he tried to alert local health workers to call an ambulance but was denied prompt access to emergency services due to his Covid-19 testing status.

“My child might have been saved if he had been taken to the hospital sooner,” In a now-deleted Facebook post, the father wrote.

Although there are plenty of zero-Covid advocates on Chinese social networks, there are also many who voice their disapproval online or offline.

Chinese social media users lamented that lockdowns had contributed to mental health problems. They also criticised government officials for failing to pay attention to those who are trapped in their apartments.

“Over the past three years, lockdowns and epidemic prevention chaos in various parts of China have repeated … destroying the mental health of ordinary people and causing anxiety and extreme emotions, including anti-social and self-destructive behaviors,” One user wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like, microblogging platform.

Following the young boy’s death in Lanzhou, the internet rage machine was running at full capacity, with related hashtags on Weibo racking up hundreds of millions of views.

Anger was primarily directed at the government’s censorship of posts related to the incident and “excessive Covid-19 prevention measures.Unverified videos Online footage shows residents of the city taking to the streets to protest against what appear to be police and public health personnel.

Unfortunately, for those hoping to see an immediate end to zero Covid, negative feedback from the public is unlikely to lead to any changes. But if the economic situation does not improve and discontent grows, it could force the government to reevaluate its position — it has happened before.

After all, a dissatisfied, unemployed population is not easy to govern, even when you have the world’s shiniest array of censorship tools.