Xi Jinping’s decision to keep a third of the Chinese population under harsh lockdown has finally sparked a backlash, says Devi Sridhar in The Guardian. But “the world will suffer” if he changes tack now. Since 2019, China’s strategy has been “containment”: imposing frequent lockdowns, building isolation centres and meticulously contact tracing. These measures were “incredibly draconian”– but they worked. So when vaccines were approved and other countries moved towards a policy of living with the virus, Beijing saw no need to follow suit. There was a “false sense of security”: if Chinese people would never be exposed to Covid, “why get vaccinated at all”?
When Beijing did roll out a vaccine, it opted for a “home-grown”, non-mRNA version, which appears to offer protection for just six months. Only healthy young adults were encouraged to get it, because officials were concerned about possible side effects on the elderly. The result is that just 68% of the population is fully vaccinated, and only 40% of over-80s. What’s more, a measly 0.1% have been infected with Covid – compared to 90% in England – meaning there’s a staggeringly low rate of natural immunity. If Xi abandons his lockdown policy now, China’s “already fragile” health system will collapse – and new, more dangerous variants may well emerge as the virus tears through the population. That’s bad for everyone.