Shanghai’s first Covid deaths are both a warning and a justification
As Scotland relaxes one of the last remaining Covid rules by ditching the legal requirement for face masks in indoor public places, there is one country where restrictions are getting ever tighter.
China, where the pandemic began – via bats in a food market in the city of Wuhan, according to official reports, or through the accidental opening of a lab door in a Danger Mouse-style pathogenic leak if you believe the conspiracy theorists – is subjecting its citizens to the most stringent lockdown measures in the world as its zero-Covid policy struggles in the battle against the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Shanghai - which has been the epicentre of China’s outbreak for some weeks - yesterday reported its first Covid-related deaths. Except that they weren’t, as there have already been a number of people who have died with the virus, although the Chinese authorities claimed that because those people had other health conditions that had contributed to their demise, they were not counted as Covid deaths.
It has possibly chosen to highlight these latest deaths – three, all in elderly people who were unvaccinated – as a warning, as well as a justification for its tough rules. In China, just over half of people over 60 are vaccinated at all. In Shanghai, health facilities are already overwhelmed, not least by the policy that requires anyone who receives a positive test (whether asymptomatic or not) to isolate in a state facility.
By contrast, in Scotland, more than 70 per cent of the population aged over 12 have had three doses of vaccine, with the figure for two doses rising to almost 86 per cent.
Shanghai is under a heavy lockdown. Supermarkets and take away food outlets are closed, people I have spoken to there say it has become a full-time job to find the most basic of food supplies, while almost no-one is allowed out of their homes, even for exercise. While mainly compliant at the moment, Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly restless.
China has enjoyed a more “normal” existence than much of the world over the past two years – by keeping Covid out – but it looks unlikely to be able to continue to do so. How it handles that, as the virus spreads across the country, which seems inevitable at this point, remains to be seen.
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