The Covid-19 virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China – whether through zoonotic transmission (jumping from animals to humans) or via an accidental lab leak (from Wuhan CDC or Institute of Virology studying Yunnan bat viruses).
China reacted swiftly with lockdowns to eradicate the virus and has committed itself to a ‘Covid Zero’ strategy after initially hiding the transmissibility of the virus (perhaps even local officials hiding it from senior government leaders) and underplaying its initial toll.
The strong response from the central government that followed the initial outbreak is a committed strategy of the country to demonstrate the superiority of its system. They’ve ignored civil liberties concerns, going so far as locking people into homes that ultimately became tombs, which have been defended by American financiers and hoteliers with significant ties to China.
President Xi Jinping seeks an unprecedented third term at the country’s 2022 party congress. It’s this upcoming solidification of his power that, in part, makes the nation cautious of missteps. It can’t risk a blunder like an invasion of Taiwan that goes badly. And it can’t risk losing face by losing control of Covid-19.
After all, China lacks significant background immunity to the virus due to low levels of prior infection and homegrown vaccines that didn’t work well even against ancestral strains of the virus.
So it’s not surprising that international flights to China remain down 95% compared to before the pandemic as they attempt to control entry of the virus.
China has responded to Covid by blocking people from flying in and out of the country, with 500 inbound flights scheduled this week, compared with 10,000 this time two years ago. With no endgame in sight, this doesn't appear to be a sustainable approach.https://t.co/RGEST85SjU pic.twitter.com/rryxDXENw0
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) January 19, 2022
On the one hand this seems unsustainable in the long term. They need updated vaccines before re-opening, at least without incurring huge risk in advance of Xi Jinping’s re-election late in the year. They’ll host a controlled Winter Olympics, which brings some risk, however. In the meantime remaining closed makes it easier to enforce ideological conformity.
Hong Kong, as part of its turn towards China, has clamped down tremendously as well. This allows the special administrative region to remain open as part of the country’s ‘Greater Bay Area’ but it’s meant absurd measures like ordering the eradication of pet hamsters. Though hamsters aren’t believed to be a significant vector of virus spread, the risk of even a single case leads to extreme actions. There are now abandoned hamsters on alley streets now that people can no longer keep them in their homes. (Spirit Airlines recommends flushing them.)
Sadly, it’s likely that when China does eventually re-open its borders, I won’t feel confident in returning.