Apr 12, 2022 - Podcasts

China’s extreme COVID lockdowns

China’s largest COVID outbreak in two years continues to spread across the country. In Shanghai, daily cases surpassed 26,000 over the weekend despite weeks of lockdown. Now residents in Shanghai are increasingly struggling to get access to food and medical care.

  • Plus, the six states that could be key in the midterms.

Guests: Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Alexi McCammond.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, April 12th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the six states that could be key in the midterm elections.

But first, today’s one big thing: China’s extreme covid lockdowns cause suffering in Shanghai.

NIALA: China's largest COVID outbreak in two years continues to spread across the country. In Shanghai daily cases surpassed 26,000 over the weekend, despite weeks of lockdown. And now the 26 million residents there are increasingly struggling to get access to food and medical care. Here to explain the latest is Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, China reporter at Axios. Hi, Bethany.


NIALA: Bethany, what are you hearing about what it's like for people in Shanghai right now?

BETHANY: The scenes that are unfolding in Shanghai are very dramatic. In the U.S., you may remember from two years ago, at the beginning of our lockdowns when it was so difficult to get toilet paper. Now imagine that exact scenario, except instead of toilet paper, it's really hard for everyone to get food. That's what's happening in Shanghai. And that's kind of incredible because, you know, Shanghai has 26 million people. It's one of the most modern and prosperous cities in the world. There's people here, you know, lawyers, doctors, executives. And many of them are struggling to find food on grocery shelves, to be able to order food from delivery apps and everyone is trapped in their houses.

NIALA: And so, Shanghai is actually still reporting zero COVID deaths, despite some 130,000 cases. How accurate is that data?

BETHANY: There have been unofficial reports of deaths related to COVID, but those don't seem to be showing up in the official numbers right now. There's also been unofficial reports of deaths related to the lockdowns. So for example, people being unable to get medical care. Or their conditions in nursing homes being so bad that people can't survive.

NIALA: Bethany, what are vaccination rates like across China and Shanghai?

BETHANY: Vaccination rates in China are quite high, 89%. However, there's some important caveats here. For one, the vaccination rate amongst elderly people in China is much lower, around 51%. In addition, the vaccinations have all been performed with Chinese-made, domestic vaccines. And they have lower efficacy in stopping the spread of COVID and in reducing the severity of illness.

NIALA: Bethany, why is the vaccination rates so low among older people? It's the opposite of most Western countries.

BETHANY: A disproportionate number of elderly people live in rural areas. And it's harder for them to access vaccines. In addition, China's elderly population has tended to feel more hesitancy in receiving vaccines. They're more concerned about side effects.

NIALA: What are the concerns for people outside of China watching this unfold?

BETHANY: Well, there's certainly humanitarian concerns. Beyond that, you know, people are watching supply chains very closely, watching for shortages. Including in some cases, for higher-end goods. So for example, Tesla has one of its large factories there. That has been shuttered now for a couple of weeks.

NIALA: How are you thinking about the way China is trying to enforce the zero COVID policy?

BETHANY: Well I guess I would say China's response to COVID has also been affected by politics. First of all, Chinese authorities have not approved the use of the more effective Western-made MRNA vaccines. And that's because I think that leaders in Beijing don't like the optics of being seen to rely on the West for literally saving their own population. Second is that 2022 is a really key year for Xi Jinping. Later this year, he is going to be, most likely, assuming a very unusual third term as president. If China succumbs to a massive national outbreak, if many people die, or if these kinds of really strict lockdowns with immense human suffering continue, that could really damage his political standing.

NIALA: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is Axios’ China reporter. Thanks, Bethany.

BETHANY: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: And one U.S. covid headline for your Tuesday: Philadelphia yesterday became the first major American city this spring to announce it is reimposing an indoor mask mandate, as cases rise of the omicron subvariant BA2. As we see a new uptick across the country, we’ll be watching to see if other cities follow suit.

In a moment we’re back with the six states that control of Congress may hinge on.

Welcome back to Axios Today - I’m Niala Boodhoo.

There are only six states that matter in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, that’s according to a recent memo shared with Axios’ Alexi McCammond written by Doug Sosnik, a former advisor to Bill Clinton. Those states are Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nevada. And Alexi’s here now to tell us about these political hotspots.

Alexi, who’s Doug Sosnik and why does it matter what he thinks?

ALEXI MCCAMOND: As you mentioned, Doug Sosnick is a former longtime advisor, senior advisor to Bill Clinton and during the Clinton administration for six years. Now, he is a renowned political analyst who, every midterm cycle, puts out these midterms memos that really kind of, you know, set the tone for what people are focused on because he's always kind of correctly predicted not necessarily the outcomes of midterm elections, but certainly these kinds of larger factors and dynamics and trends that eventually shaped the contours of the elections in November.

NIALA: So what are the trends here with these states and what's making them so important for the midterms?

ALEXI: So one of the big things that Doug and I talked about when we chatted by phone over the weekend, is that both demographic and economic factors and shifts over the last several years are two big things that are contributing of course, to the way that the electorate is changing in these states, but also to the way that these folks are voting. And the other interesting thing that we talked about, is how within these states, all six of these states, they have really important voting trends from both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, as well as really competitive state-level or statewide, rather, elections this cycle that Doug says will help us predict what might happen in 2024.

NIALA: How much are President Biden's approval ratings in these states part of this calculus?

ALEXI: I mean, the reality is that President Biden's approval rating’s underwater in all of the states that matter. That's a big problem because that's not the only factor that matters, of course, but it's usually a proxy for the country's mood. And that would suggest, you know, being in the low forties that people aren't really happy. And so far, Republican voters are indicating in poll after poll that they're feeling more excited about actually voting in November, compared to Democrats who are suggesting they're feeling a little more apathetic.

NIALA: Alexi, we mentioned these six states. Are there local issues in each of these states that Democrats are hoping will garner as much enthusiasm in the way that Republicans are seeing? What are Democrats hoping will bring people out to vote?

ALEXI: Yeah. I mean, that's a great question. We've seen how to your latter point Republicans are using the issue of education as a motivating factor for their base. We see it, you know, across the country in elections. The one thing that you hear lately of course, is inflation and the issue of rising costs. I hear it in every conversation I have and Democrats are hoping that this is an issue, especially with Democratic governors, but all the way down the ticket that they'll be able to talk to folks and how they have a plan, they say, to address it.

NIALA: Alexi McCammond is covering the 2022 midterm elections for Axios – thanks so much Alexi.

ALEXI: Thanks so much.

NIALA: Before we go – a story we’re following that we’d like your help on: I’ve been so struck by the amount of spam messages I had been getting lately especially via text message. So I wanted to hear what spam you’ve been receiving – and what worries you about these texts: are you concerned about where your data is ending up? Or is it just a nuisance? Send me your spam screenshots and voice messages of what you’re experiencing to the Axios Today text line at 202-918-4893.

That’s it for us today!

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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