LOCKDOWNS don’t work.
We know that now, but it seems the Chinese haven’t learnt the lesson.
This week, China has shown what happens when ‘zero covid’ is taken to the extreme for three, long years.
To be fair, Xi Jinping’s initial policy of suppressing the virus worked.
Entire cities were PCR tested daily, quarantine hospitals providing 250,000 beds established, mandatory face masks and house arrest for those testing positive.
Then the new variant Omicron took hold and the folly of prioritising lockdown over immunisation in a largely unvaccinated population has been exposed.
In the grip of soaring death rates, China was at last accelerating the vaccination programme when a tower block fire killed people locked into their flats last week.
Unprecedented demonstrations spread quickly, with many protestors chanting words from a banner raised over Sitong Bridge six weeks ago: “We don’t need Covid tests, we need to eat; we don’t need lockdowns, we need freedom; we don’t need lies, we need dignity; we don’t need Cultural Revolution, we need reform; we don’t need leaders, we need votes; we are not slaves, we are citizens.”
For many Chinese, lockdown has been the last straw in an unending litany of authoritarian crackdowns.
But the price for dissent is high, most probably terminal, in Xi Jinping’s surveillance state.
Knowing this, the sheer number of Chinese willing to risk their lives in protest reveals a shift in mood in an otherwise subservient population.
Could this be an historic moment?
I suspect, sadly, that a ruthless State will snuff out any flame of freedom, at least for the present.
However, history teaches us that once the genie is out of the lamp, it’s very hard to put it back in.