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por Sérgio de Almeida Correia, em 29.11.22

f4121930-6776-45c1-aba5-0576dd2c3e40_206e403d.jpg(fonte: Getty Images/TNS)

My Take, by Zhou Xin (South China Morning Post, 29/11/2022)
China faces moment of truth on its zero-Covid-19 policy amid public defiance, pandemic fatigue

"China’s zero-Covid drive is not going as smoothly as Beijing wished: the country has found itself locked in an impossible battle after trying for nearly a year to contain the Omicron variant, using its old playbook of mass lockdowns and mandatory testing to fight a faceless enemy that cannot be eradicated.
That approach, which had once convinced Beijing of the supremacy of its governance system, is looking increasingly cumbersome, costly and unsustainable.
A well-implemented zero-Covid policy is supposed to do the trick of containing the virus while keeping economic activities humming and ensuring that development is on track. But the hard reality is that the virus is now out of control, the economy is in tatters, and angry citizens are showing public defiance.
The Chinese government this month relaxed some Covid-19 controls and introduced what is known as the “20 measures”, offering hope that the country is finally pivoting to living with the virus. But if this counts as a pivot, it is a weak one, as Beijing’s overall guiding principle remains unchanged. Unsurprisingly, the move has created confusion and the big question lingers: what does Beijing really want?
For local governments, it is a burning question that awaits a clear answer. If Beijing’s ultimate goal continues to require rooting out virus transmissions in communities as quickly as possible, local authorities have no choice but to maintain universal testing, impose snap lockdowns and drag patients into makeshift hospitals deemed by some people as “coronavirus gulags” that often consist of hundreds of beds crammed together under one big roof.
A number of Chinese cities, including Shanghai, have even imposed fresh restrictions, such as keeping domestic travellers away from restaurants and pubs – a clumsy upgrade of a similar three-day ban in Hong Kong directed at international arrivals. That means tourists at the Shanghai Disney Resort can have fun taking rides and watching character parades, but they cannot dine in indoor restaurants.
Yet under the new “20 measures”, local authorities are explicitly told to refrain from imposing additional restrictions. In other words, they are directed to steer left even when the destination is on the right. Some grass-roots officials have resorted to the informal way of governance by giving out verbal instructions for lockdowns so as to leave no written evidence for people to file complaints to higher-level authorities.
Such tricks, however, have backfired as residents under lockdowns demanded proof of authorisation. In Beijing, several communities tried to negotiate over the weekend with grass-roots Communist Party committees, which are legally self-organised bodies without government authority, to lift lockdowns. Piece by piece, China’s zero-Covid system is crumbling under its own weight.
t has been a year since the World Health Organization declared the arrival of Omicron, calling it a new and different variant that would change the pandemic trajectory. Since then, many countries are forced to, or have voluntarily chosen to give up on zero-Covid-19 as a strategy.
But China, which achieved stellar performance in minimising death while maintaining economic growth in 2021, neglected the warnings and doubled down on its approach, wrongly assuming that Omicron would make no difference.
China earlier this year budgeted a 5.5 per cent GDP growth target for 2022, a clear sign of excessive confidence, and it briefly pushed for mainland-style universal testing in Hong Kong. In May, the government promptly quashed debates about Shanghai’s painful two-month lockdown by declaring war against any words or actions that “doubt, distort and negate” zero-Covid.
A lot of things have happened over the past year. China’s pursuit of zero-Covid is losing support and no longer resonates with the great majority of the population, who have had enough lockdowns and testing. It is time for Beijing to face the reality and make the right choice."

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