China's COVID storm
A new COVID calamity is hammering China, with a surge in infections prompting a return of lockdowns, including in some manufacturing areas that supply the West.
- China reported a record number of infections this week, amid lockdowns and mass testing that are fueling unrest and darkening the country's economic outlook. Schools in Beijing returned to online teaching.
Why it matters: In addition to the human misery for the world's most populous country, the effects will be felt around the globe, Axios China author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports from Taipei.
- Supply chains are likely to be disrupted, causing prices to rise in an already rocky global economy.
Rare protests broke out today in China's far western Xinjiang region. Crowds shouted at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger by prolonged COVID lockdowns, Reuters reports.
- "End the lockdown!" shouted protesters in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, where an apartment fire killed 10.
What's happening: The moment of truth for China’s zero-COVID policy has finally come.
- Either party leaders will need to plunge much of the country into draconian lockdowns, as we saw at the beginning of the pandemic — or they'll decide it's time to learn to live with COVID.
Reality check: China’s doctors have warned Xi Jinping that the healthcare system isn't prepared for the huge outbreak likely to follow the easing of strict anti-COVID measures, the Financial Times reports.
- Chinese-made vaccines, which don't use the mRNA technology employed by many produced by the West, aren't as effective compared to those made in the U.S. And China has worrisomely low vaccination rates among older people.
- But the number of cases in China is actually still very low for anywhere but China.
The big picture: "Zero COVID" restrictions have damaged the economy and undermined people’s trust in government.
- That's a stark about-face from the height of the pandemic. Then, many Chinese people felt the tight central control had protected them better than any other governance model in the world.
- But it's that very model that has plunged China into its current predicament. Xi tied his reputation, and the party’s legitimacy, to the success of "zero COVID."
Between the lines: Chinese leaders made a huge, politically motivated mistake. They resisted the import of Western-made mRNA vaccines (including Pfizer and Moderna) for its citizens. These vaccines were only recently made available to foreigners.
- That's likely because of Beijing's big vaccine diplomacy push: Chinese officials touted their own vaccines as the best and safest.
- It was politically unpalatable to admit "defeat," and allow Chinese people to get more effective — but Western-made — jabs.