Beijing is learning the hard way that its "COVID Zero" approach toward combating the virus is having serious drawbacks. For example, while the US and Europe continue to roll back their tightening measures, a growing number of Chinese citizens are facing draconian lockdowns similar to the one imposed on Wuhan during the early days of the outbreak two years ago.
According to ABC News, the total number of Chinese citizens under lockdown rose to 51 million on Monday. Beijing has ordered a lockdown covering the entire northeastern province of Jilin, where 24 million people live. What's more, the southern cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan, with 17.5 million and 10 million, respectively, have both been locked down in recent days.
China reported 1,437 cases across dozens of cities on Monday. That’s a four-fold increase within the span of a week.
Although the record number of new cases being reported is testing the feasibility of China’s zero-tolerance approach, there is still no sign that the country's leadership is thinking about abandoning the policy altogether.
Authorities announced on Monday that 24 million people in Jilin Province would be forced into lockdown. That number includes the population of the previously locked down city of Changchun. Jilin's lockdown marks the first province-wide lockdown since that of Wuhan and Hubei in January 2020.
The lockdown in Shenzhen threatens manufacturing and tech production in a city that's home to Huawei and Tencent, along with one of the country's main ports. As we noted earlier, the lockdown in Shenzhen has forced Apple supplier Foxconn to halt production of iPhones, which weighed on Apple shares earlier Monday.
While the lockdowns were initially given a short-term timeline of a week, authorities can always choose to extend them.
In keeping with the CCP's propaganda, Professor Heiwai Tang at Hong Kong University told ABC News that he doesn't expect these week-long lockdowns to have a significant impact on GDP growth.
"It seems the lockdowns will be shorter this time with more tracking, which means a short disruption of work and production," Tang said. "If it ends up lasting for weeks it’s another issue, including inflation risks."
Looking back, Professor Michael Song from Hong Kong’s Chinese University estimated that the two-month lockdown in Wuhan lopped 2 percentage points off China's GDP growth.
Shanghai-based virologist Zhang Wenhong described the latest outbreak as "the most difficult moment in the past two years" of China's efforts to stamp out the virus. Shanghai, China's financial capital, has so far avoided a full-scale lockdown, but has faced some restrictions.
Many believe the most recent outbreak in mainland China likely traveled across the border from Hong Kong, which has seen case numbers soar over the past few weeks, prompting authorities to impose lockdowns and construct thousands of makeshift quarantine beds.
Mandatory quarantines and other strict anti-COVID measures have already taken their toll on the mental health of Chinese citizens: police reported 3 suicide attempts at one quarantine "camp" during the past day as of mid-morning on Monday in the Eastern US.