HomeLifestylesHealthNo Escape From Zero-Covid

No Escape From Zero-Covid

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After a deadly fire in a residential building in China’s Xinjiang region, which many people blame on Covid-19 lockdowns, Chinese protesters have taken to the streets to demand an end to strict pandemic restrictions.

Even before the protests started, there were signs that President Xi Jinping’s government was getting ready to end the expensive zero-Covid policy, though it’s still not clear when. But this process will be harder than most people seem to think.

China’s move away from zero-Covid poses clear risks to public health that must be managed, especially given that the elderly have low vaccination rates. Less obvious, though, are the problems this process can cause in the workplace.

China has learned from Hong Kong’s painful experience that a wave of infections in an area with a lot of people can cause a sudden rise in the number of people needing medical care, which can shut down the public health system. If the government can’t meet this need quickly, the number of deaths, especially among older people, could go up.

Because of the need to avoid a demand shock like this, most countries have been slow to remove pandemic-control measures. But as a country with strong centralised control, China has the advantage of being able to plan its gradual reopening in both time and space.

China’s reform and opening up of its economy over the past 40 years can teach us a lot. China didn’t open its whole economy to the outside world all at once. Instead, it started by making four cities on the mainland into “special economic zones.” It soon opened up 14 more coastal cities. The model was then slowly put into place in the rest of the country.

From a business point of view, this slow approach had a number of clear benefits. The central government was able to keep the risks of market reform in check, and so it was able to manage them.

Also, it was able to try things out, learn from them, and collect data, which gave people more confidence and helped the reforms grow. And it was able to bring together talented people from all over the country to help with important projects.

Illustration image. (Image by: Martin Sanchez)

China can leave zero-Covid in a similar way by setting up “special health zones” in high-risk, well-resourced cities like Guangzhou, where the number of cases has recently gone up. In these areas, there will be fewer restrictions because of the pandemic, but people will not be able to move freely to other cities and regions.

Before loosening restrictions more widely, the Chinese government can find out what happens when pandemic restrictions are eased in these small areas.

If there was a healthcare crisis in one of these zones, it would be contained. This would make it much easier to meet the increased demand for important medical supplies and staff by making sure that resources from areas that still follow the zero-Covid policy could be moved.

China has done something similar before. When Shanghai was locked down earlier this year, more than 38,000 medical workers from 15 Chinese provinces came to the city to help deal with the increase in cases. But to get out of zero-Covid, resource sharing would need to be set up on a much larger scale and planned out more carefully.

Intuitively, resources should be pooled at a subnational level, so that a region’s unmet needs are met by its neighbours’ extra supplies. This would mean that resources would have to be moved over shorter distances, which would make transportation faster and cheaper.

But there is a big problem with this approach: since regions near each other tend to have strong economic ties, it makes sense for those near the special health zones to be the next ones to have their pandemic restrictions eased.

Once that happens, there will be more cases of Covid-19 and more people will need medical care in the nearby areas. If all of their medical supplies and people have already been sent to the special zones, they will quickly run out of both.

Because of this, regional pooling of resources should be paired with a system at the national level. So, resources can be moved between faraway places that are likely to be in different stages of recovery.

This larger-scale effort would need to be planned and coordinated in advance by all levels of the central government and all subnational governments. Local governments need to find medical resources that are “disposable” and could be added to a “pool” without causing a big drop in the quality of local services. The central government, on the other hand, needs to come up with standard operating procedures to make sure that the different resource pools in the different regions work well together.

In the meantime, the central government could set up one or more centralised distribution hubs to store medical supplies that would then be sent to regional centres.

It could also put together a group of specialists who could be sent to special health zones when needed. China’s highly centralised political system is a good fit for projects of this size and complexity.

Even though there are more protests than ever, China will not leave zero-Covid overnight. Instead, it will most likely be done gradually and cautiously, similar to China’s economic reform and opening up.

So, China’s leaders need to move much more quickly than they did 40 years ago. With a well-thought-out plan for how to do it, there’s a good chance they can pull it off.

Info source – Free Malaysia Today

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