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Zero-Covid is as mad as killing sparrows

Sparrows in China: a billion died in vain. iStock/Getty

After more than two months in lockdown, Shanghai is opening up again, says Austin Williams in UnHerd. But “horror stories” abound. Employees were locked in offices for months. A woman walking her neighbour’s dog was “snatched” and taken to a quarantine hotel, where she was kept in one room, with the dog, for 10 weeks. Health workers barged into people’s homes, drenched their belongings in disinfectant and sent them off to “detention camps”. Not only have these mad zero-Covid policies battered the economy, they have also angered locals – germinating “the seeds of dissent that the Chinese Communist Party has spent decades carefully suppressing”.

China has been here before. During the Great Leap Forward – Chairman Mao’s disastrous attempt to rapidly industrialise the country – the government launched a campaign to exterminate creatures that ate crops. Sparrows were on the target list, so every night peasants were made to bang pots and pans, making so much noise that the birds could not rest and would die of exhaustion. In two years, a billion sparrows were killed. But the authorities hadn’t appreciated that the birds ate other pests. Locust numbers rocketed, crop yields collapsed and famine ensued. Like today’s zero-Covid policy, it’s an example of oblivious politicians being so determined to reach their targets that they are “ignorant of, or unconcerned by, the knock-on effects of their instructions”.