April 8, 2022

FIGHT THE POWER: Shanghai at the Breaking Point?

The quick and dirty version for latecomers: China’s biggest city undertook what was supposed to a brief, temporary lockdown last week to stem an outbreak of Omicron. Half the city would shut down for five days and undergo mass testing, then the other half would do the same. Those testing positive would be whisked away to centralized quarantine to prevent them from infecting others. That was supposed to uproot most of the viral vectors in Shanghai; if anyone tested positive after that, they could be contained via “targeted” lockdowns of their apartment complex or neighborhood.

It hasn’t worked out. Today the city is reporting more than 20,000 positive tests, a record high. The brief, temporary lockdown has become indefinite. Because the entire population is stuck at home, there’s no way to get food except via delivery. And because everyone is ordering delivery, the odds that you’ll be lucky enough to land in the queue are slim.

People are starving and claustrophobic and there’s no end in sight, of necessity. On the one hand, China can’t afford to lift restrictions. Its health-care system can’t cope with the likely number of infections and deaths if the virus were to spread freely, and Xi Jinping won’t want to admit that his “zero COVID” policy was in error at a moment when he’s up for a third term as president. On the other hand, China can’t afford not to lift restrictions. Unrest in the city is growing and the Chinese economy needs Shanghai, a financial powerhouse, to be back online.

It’s getting real and tempers are flaring, as this CNN clip demonstrates. Stick around to the end or you’ll miss a quarantine worker beating an infected man’s dog to death for . . . reasons. . . .

At some point, the fact that the Chinese Communist Party shut down its biggest city in furtherance of an unsustainable COVID policy and forgot to figure out a way to feed people before doing so will create certain … perceptions about the leadership’s wisdom and competence. Maybe we’re at that point already.

Like Putin, Xi is in a war he can’t really win, but can’t afford to end.

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