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Dynamic Zero

Cases have mounted since and the screws have been tightened, leading to shortages of food and essential supplies and restricted access to even medical services. China’s policy of containing Covid, perfected in Wuhan where the virus originated, has three prongs ~ mass testing, extensive quarantines, and abrupt lockdown announcements.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

While the rest of the world grapples with fresh waves of coronavirus infections, relying alternately on vaccinations and sporadic restrictions to keep disease at bay, the country which in a sense gave us the virus has reacted with ferocity to every fresh outbreak under what is termed its Dynamic Zero policy.

This involves taking measures that most others would deem both excessive and unenforceable, indeed even inhuman. But China being China gets away with everything that its leadership decrees. Thus, the historic city of Xi’an ~ home to the Terracotta warriors and once a key tourist destination ~ and its 13 million residents have been under a strict lockdown since 22 December, when 150 infections were detected.

Cases have mounted since and the screws have been tightened, leading to shortages of food and essential supplies and restricted access to even medical services. China’s policy of containing Covid, perfected in Wuhan where the virus originated, has three prongs ~ mass testing, extensive quarantines, and abrupt lockdown announcements. While Xian is under lockdown, Zhengzhou saw each of its 12.6 million residents being tested for the virus after it reported just eleven cases.

Over the past 18 months, as the rest of the world waged a largely unsuccessful war against the virus, China appeared to have triumphed with its harsh measures. As a result, steps that other societies might consider extreme had largely won support from the people. But that may change if the increasing resentment in Xi’an is any indication. For the Chinese are beginning to realise that the introduction of widespread curbs each time there is a spike in cases could leave them trapped in an unending cycle of uncertainty.

At least some of the resentment stems from a case early in January where a pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage after being turned away by a hospital because her Covid-19 test had expired four hours earlier. A video posted online showed the woman bleeding on a sidewalk and soon began to trend on a microblogging site. Realising that the issue might snowball, authorities promptly fired two departmental heads in the hospital and suspended a general manager.

The city’s health department chief was reprimanded by the country’s Communist party. China has a slew of measures to ensure its Dynamic Zero policy works. Trace and track apps are mandatory, and lead to contacts of an infected person being quarantined quickly. Border controls are strict; towns near the border with Myanmar have been almost constantly under lockdown.

Migrant workers have been stranded in the country for months, unable to move because of travel restrictions. Health workers act with impunity, and in November beat to death a pet dog whose owner was in quarantine sparking widespread outrage on social media until authorities scrubbed the damning images from the internet. Public anger is mounting and a hashtag “Grocery shopping in Xi’an is difficult” was viewed nearly 400 million times.

China, though, seems determined to continue its policy, offering up a model in public health management that the rest of the world is increasingly shying away from.