Corona wave in China: uncontrolled epidemic and the consequences – politics

The opening day is the moment when the young woman, let’s call her Chang Yun, realizes that it won’t work out this time either. She spent two years preparing for the graduate examination so that she could then complete a master’s degree. Now she has canceled participation. The 22-year-old Chinese has a chronic lung disease and is too afraid of getting infected from other participants in the test room.

Since China gave up its strict corona policy practically overnight, the virus has been raging across the country. Since there is hardly any testing anymore, it is no longer possible to estimate the extent of the wave that is currently rolling over the country. Nevertheless, there are reports that can give an impression of this.

In Shanghai, a hospital is preparing its staff for a “tragic battle” with Covid-19. Half of the city’s 25 million inhabitants will be infected by the end of the year, writes the Deji hospital on the messenger service Wechat. According to estimates, around 5.4 million residents are already infected.

On Wednesday, the Chinese authorities did not report a single new Covid death for the second day in a row. Deaths are only included in the official statistics for Covid-19 if very narrow criteria are met – namely if they were caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after a Covid infection. Deaths from complications, including underlying conditions made worse by the virus, are not included in the official count.

Funeral homes report full occupancy

But across the country, funeral homes are reporting full occupancy. A call to a crematorium in the northern province of Liaoning: the company can cremate thirty people a day. In the meantime, they are at the limit and are no longer giving out any new appointments, says an employee on the phone. “We’re barely going to make it.”

What is happening in China after three years of the strictest corona policy is nothing more than uncontrolled contagion. Experts expect more than a million Covid deaths in China next year.

The problem is the low vaccination rate in the country: According to government data, more than 90 percent have been vaccinated twice, and almost 60 percent of adults have received a booster vaccination. However, many of the 260 million older people over 60 are inadequately protected: only 70 percent of those over 60 and 40 percent of people over 80 have received a booster injection. In addition, the last vaccination for many Chinese is a long time ago.

Chinese hospitals are reporting that they are running out of blood supplies. The rescue of pregnant women and seriously ill people is in danger, according to the state media. Operations would have to be postponed.

Corona in China: Overworked staff: Clinic staff in a hospital in Shanghai.

Overworked staff: Clinic staff in a hospital in Shanghai.

(Foto: Aly Song/Reuters)

The sudden turnaround caught the ailing healthcare system unprepared. On social media, people are sharing tips on what to do if they can’t find any fever medication.

Even in the rich metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai, the situation is worrying. A report on state television shows a hospital with rows of elderly patients in intensive care breathing through oxygen masks. The deputy chief of the emergency room says they take in 400 patients a day, four times the usual rate.

Deji Hospital in Shanghai uses even more drastic words: “We will infect all the hospital staff! We will infect the whole family! Our patients will all be infected! We have no choice, we cannot escape.”

The narrative of the zero Covid policy

There is a story about the zero-Covid policy, and it goes like this: While the rest of the world has been braving new waves, people in China have been living almost the same as before the pandemic since the summer of 2020 because of the rigorous strategy.

But that’s not quite right. Students like Chang Yun were disproportionately affected by the strict zero-Covid measures. They had online classes and were locked up on their university campus for months, sometimes in their cramped rooms. There were also exam delays or bans on traveling home. An employee at a university in Beijing who was responsible for corona management says: “We monitored them 24 hours a day.”

Chinese experts report a huge increase in mental illnesses among young adults since 2020. Chang’s university also sealed off its students. She could only get supplies from the campus store, which charged astronomical prices. The best thing about the opening for them: the affordable fruit outside of the university.

Students from more than 70 universities took part in the nationwide mass protests at the end of November. At the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, students wrote in graffiti: “Give me back my youth.”

Many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the rigorous corona policy. But the younger generation was hit the hardest: According to the government, youth unemployment in the cities is almost 20 percent.

“Now I’m just trying to protect myself.”

The companies could not come to Chang University because of the lockdowns: “And I couldn’t find anything online,” says Chang Yun. The admissions test for the master’s program should buy her time. More than five million students and job seekers are expected to take the exam this year – more than ever before.

In view of the highly competitive job market, almost 20 percent of university graduates go on to study, according to a recent employment report. Many are looking for “stable and long-term” job opportunities, and the proportion of students preparing for the civil service exam has doubled in five years.

But now Corona is intervening again. Local governments are to set up separate testing centers over the weekend and emergency rooms for participants with a fever or other symptoms so that everyone can participate. Debates about the exams are already being censored on the Chinese network, and the word “exam for graduates” is blocked.

Chang will stay at home because of her previous illness. She hasn’t gone out for a month, she now lives alone in her parents’ apartment, her family sleeps in their own shop. Chang won’t meet anyone at the New Year’s festival either, which is traditionally when the family celebrates together. “Almost everyone is infected in my city,” she says. Next year she wants to look for a job again to help her family. “Now I’m just trying to protect myself.”