China’s largest city, Shanghai, largely reopened on Wednesday morning after two months of lockdown that staved off an outbreak of the virulent virus subvariant, Omicron B.2. This event is a triumph of health mobilization because the epidemic which reached a peak of nearly 30,000 infections per day in mid-April, claimed the lives of less than 600 people, most of them elderly and unvaccinated.
During those two months, most offices, factories and other workplaces were closed, although production continued in some key industries where workers huddled in factories and rarely went out, a process known as closed circuit system. Schools moved to online education, public transport was virtually passengerless and the few stores that remained open could only supply goods delivered to homes. The city itself has been cut off from the rest of the country, with visitors only allowed to enter after two weeks of quarantine.
Most residents have stayed at home, with the Internet as their primary link to the outside world. Deliveries of food and other necessities were organized through the country’s vast networks of housing blocks and neighborhood committees, later supplanted by the government.
Nearly a million passengers rode the subway to work on Wednesday as shops and malls quickly opened for a brisk business resumption. Nearly 330,000 cars were circulating in the streets of the city. Shanghai’s iconic Yuyuan Garden mall has reopened and is operating under normal hours. Supermarkets have been opened to local customers. Even Shanghai’s main automaker, SAIC Motor, said it was producing at 80 percent capacity.
More than 22.5 million residents (90 percent of Shanghai’s population) now live in low-risk neighborhoods, meaning those sections have been declared infection-free for more than two weeks. Bi-weekly PCR tests are rigorously continued and the health system remains on high alert. As one resident remarked South China Morning Post“the sirens and the noise of the vehicles have returned to the level before the confinement, but it is the Shanghai that we know, good or bad”.
It is impossible to overestimate the political significance of Shanghai’s successful fight against COVID. There is no more debate to be had on the policy to be carried out to protect the world population from this deadly virus.
As Marx’s second and justly famous Thesis on Feuerbach declares: “The question whether human thought should be recognized as an objective truth is not a theoretical question, but a practical one. It is in practice that man must prove the truth, that is to say the reality, and the power of his thought, in this world and for our time.
The example of China proves that zero-COVID is effective, even against the most contagious variant to appear to date. Shanghai’s outbreak apparently had two causes: infections from outside China, inevitable given the city’s role in the global economy, and lax enforcement of the zero-COVID policy by officials. city, which Beijing halted after the number of infections began to soar.
Still, the worst day of the pandemic in China, in mid-April, saw the seven-day average of infections hit 26,109. During the same period, the United States was hitting a low of 27,000 new daily infections, after the decline of the Omicron peak and before the emergence of the next wave, fueled by the B.2 subvariant. Today, daily infections once again exceeded 110,000 in the United States, while daily community infections across China were 68 on Wednesday, and just 11 in Shanghai. The last death from COVID-19 occurred six days ago.
More generally, life expectancy in China has for the first time during the pandemic exceeded that of the United States. These are richer and have a technically more efficient medical infrastructure. But the inequalities in access to health care, the worsening of the social crisis expressed by the “deaths of despair” (suicides, deaths due to opioids or related to other drugs and alcohol) and above all the loss of one million lives due to a totally preventable pandemic, have led to an unprecedented decline in life expectancy, one of the criteria for the viability of any society.
China has limited the total number of reported deaths from COVID to 5,226. And according to the recently released WHO report on excess deaths, China has recorded a negative number of 52,000 deaths. In other words, efforts to fight the pandemic have also saved lives that would have been lost for other, non-COVID related causes.
From a health perspective, efforts to contain the outbreak caused by a highly airborne pathogen such as Omicron in a very high density city of 26 million people is a remarkable confirmation of initiatives undertaken to eliminate disease in this metropolis.
It undermines the incessant assertions of the bourgeois press that the population must accept to live with the virus and suffer endless repeated infections, as well as the prospect of a long-lasting COVID if they are lucky enough to survive an acute form. of the disease.
Indeed, the efforts in Shanghai deserve both acclaim, intense clinical study, and assimilation. With globalization and climate change, it is predicted that viruses will have an increasing chance of entering human populations. An international pandemic preparedness infrastructure is a critical necessity, but so is understanding how to apply these complex pandemic measures to contain pathogens, as demonstrated in Shanghai. Dynamic zero-COVID is the essence of controlling any disease threatening human populations.
Yet, instead of applauding China’s success, the reaction of the American media has been decidedly negative, even openly hostile. the New York Timesafter spending weeks portraying the lockdown as a futile effort by the Chinese authorities to do the impossible – push back Omicron – through repressive and undemocratic methods, was not ready to admit that the policy pursued in Shanghai was correct.
The media portrayed the people of Shanghai as if they had just been devastated by a hurricane or an earthquake, or were reeling from a months-long military bombardment, breathing sighs of relief at the end of the collective suffering, rather than celebrating a victory over the deadly virus.
The journalists of Timeseven found a graduate student from Shanghai to tell them “I feel like the harm caused by the pandemic control measures is worse than the harm caused by the virus itself.” The reporters were apparently on a mission to find at least one in a billion Chinese people to repeat the words of the columnist of the TimesThomas Friedman who launched the US anti-lockdown campaign two years ago, warning that “the cure could not be worse than the disease”.
Not once has the mainstream media on Wall Street spoken of the economic disaster that would befall the globe if China allowed the policy of “learning to live with the virus” to dictate its strategy. During last winter’s Omicron wave, deaths soared outside of China, as did worker absenteeism. Over a period of six months, China would have suffered 1.6 million deaths, the collapse of its health system and a complete destabilization of society.
The reaction of the bourgeois media is entirely motivated by the interests of Wall Street and US imperialism. They wanted China to crumble to Omicron, both to end the zero-COVID policy which is a standing indictment of imperialist governments’ indifference to the mass death of their citizens, and to deal a blow significant material to China that Washington considers its main strategic threat.
The decent and humane reaction to the reopening of Shanghai would be twofold: congratulating the Chinese people for this grand feat and raising the question of why the United States, Germany, Britain and other countries are unable to carry out such a campaign to save lives?
Because it is not pursuing the zero COVID policy, Hong Kong is experiencing a new wave of infections from the more contagious and pathogenic Omicron BA.4/5 sub-variants. South Africa has suffered a fifth wave of infections despite near 100 percent population immunity. The White House has warned that the fall and winter could see 100 million new infections in the United States and an increase in human casualties.
The WSWS explained the need for an elimination strategy. China, a country of 1.4 billion people, has shown that with initiative, even these highly contagious pathogens can be contained and eliminated. Yet given the rest of the world’s utter disregard for the long-term threat posed by SARS-Cov-2, China will be under even more pressure to abandon its defenses.
There is a deep political and strategic lesson here: it is possible for a country to fight COVID. But it is not possible to eliminate the virus in a single country in isolation because the world is an interconnected global society. The fight against the pandemic is inherently international, and it requires the mobilization of the only class whose interests are not tied to the national state: the international working class.
As part of the struggle to develop the revolutionary political consciousness of the working class, the World Socialist Web Site last November launched a campaign for a Global Workers’ Inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic. An examination of the experience of the Chinese working class in implementing the zero COVID policy is essential to the work of this inquiry.
(Article first published in English on June 2, 2022)