As the world approaches the second anniversary of Beijing's New Years' Eve (at least, for Americans) report to the WHO about a mysterious new virus circulating in Wuhan, Bloomberg reports that China is officially facing its toughest battle with COVID since the early days of the outbreak, and in response, is doubling down on its "COVID Zero" pledge, just as Australia calls in its military to help forcibly remove people in the northern territories to quarantine camps.
The decision to "double down" comes "despite rising costs to Australia's people and economy", Bloomberg reports. Additionally, as the FT reports, at least three leading Chinese health scholars have challenged the government's policy of monitoring of mobile phone location data to help identify close contacts of COVID-19 cases, "in a rare instance of public opposition to the nation’s draconian pandemic prevention strategy."
Per the FT, whose reporting embraces the notion that Beijing has an obligation to accept that COVID will inevitably become "endemic", China's top public-health officials, led by Chen Fujun at Huaxi No 4 Hospital in the southwestern city of Chengdu (which imposes travel restrictions and mandatory tests for mobile phone users who strayed within 800 meters of a confirmed case for more than 10 minutes), believe that the program results in "an overuse of medical resources, growing public panic and the disruptions of people’s normal life and work". "We should consider the sustainability of these measures," the doctors said.
The doctors’ criticism highlights the "growing challenges" faced by the Chinese government as it attempts to stick with its "zero COVID" containment strategy despite repeated outbreaks of the delta variant and other variants that have been repeatedly covered up by Beijing's increasing restrictions on reporting.
Despite early resistance to the notion, the US and European mainstream media have apparently decided that a commitment to complete eradication of the virus is now "excessive" - at least when China does it.
Yanzhong Huang, a public health policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said Chengdu’s measures were "excessive" and reflected 'poor risk assessments by the authorities'.
The Chinese government, Huang added, seems to believe that the country’s only two options are "zero cases or... [a] worst-case scenario where the entire healthcare system is overwhelmed and social stability is undermined."
Does that sound familiar?
For context, Singapore, one of the world's most active adopters of contact tracing, considers people "close contacts" of the infected only if they come within two meters of a confirmed case, a much smaller margin than Beijing's 800M.
Although, before Beijing doubles down (publicly, at least) on its insistence that COVID cases can be brought completely to heel, perhaps they should tell their lab-hands in Wuhan to stop tinkering first.