Global lens

Is China’s zero-Covid strategy a threat to the world economy?

Cities which house huge factories where Apple’s iPhones are made have been locked down

More than two years on from the first cases being detected in Wuhan, China is battling the “worst Covid-19 outbreak” it has seen since the early days of the pandemic, said Jessie Yeung on CNN (New York).

Fuelled by the Omicron variant, cases have rocketed to above 5,000 a day. That number is low compared to caseloads in other countries; but it’s “alarmingly high” for a nation that has stuck to a “strict zero-Covid policy throughout the pandemic”. And Beijing has responded in typically drastic style: by last week, some 37 million people were in lockdown, with strict rules in place in five cities including the key manufacturing hub of Shenzhen.

China is “particularly vulnerable” to Omicron, said Lily Kuo in The Washington Post. True, most of its population is double-jabbed. But Chinese vaccines are much less effective than mRNA jabs such as Pfizer’s, and some 50 million over-60s still aren’t fully inoculated – leaving Beijing in a quandary.

Our measures are again proving “effective and efficient”, said China’s state-owned People’s Daily (Beijing). Daily cases, and deaths, are extraordinarily low relative to our 1.4 billion population. And by clamping down on outbreaks quickly, we’ve maintained our “economic vitality”: witness last year’s 8.1% growth rate, China’s highest in nearly a decade.

What Beijing isn’t saying is that it had to act fast, as any further rise in cases risked overwhelming its “vast yet patchy hospital network”, said Bloomberg (New York). Hobbled by “lopsided distribution of resources and under-investment”, its healthcare system couldn’t cope if the virus were to spread as it has in other countries.

China’s containment strategy could spell serious trouble for the global economy, said C.K. Tan and Pak Yiu in Nikkei Asia (Tokyo). The cities of Dongguan and Shenzhen, placed under lockdown last week, house huge factories where Apple’s iPhones are made; in the city of Changchun, Volkswagen and Toyota had to put assembly plants on hold. Although some were able to resume operations after just a few days, there are fears that Shanghai – China’s richest and most populous city – could yet be locked down.

The dire situation here in Hong Kong, where deaths are soaring, offers Beijing a lesson, said Lee Jersey Wang in the South China Morning Post. Our resources were focused on contact tracing and isolation, and we failed to prepare hospitals for a major outbreak. “Beijing cannot afford to be caught flat-footed by the virus and see all its Covid-19 accomplishments wiped out, as has happened in Hong Kong.”

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