China’s “Zero Covid” efforts come at a cost

China’s top leader has said the country has “overcome” the impact of the coronavirus, even as sporadic blockades continue in various places and officials are ordering greater scrutiny of imported frozen food and clothing for children – both extremely unlikely sources of contagion.

The strict, though sometimes impractical, restrictions stem from China’s struggle to maintain its “zero Covid” strategy. Other nations have gradually eased restrictions as they vaccinate more people, allow more meetings with borders, and strengthen their health systems for those who become ill. On the contrary, the Chinese Communist Party has taken a great deal of credibility out of its ability to completely eradicate the disease.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, said this week that the country had “overcome the impact of Covid-19”. In a propaganda message from a major party rally, Communist Party leaders touted the successes of their response in saving lives while downplaying the huge social and economic cost of those initiatives.

Government officials defended his approach, saying it is “low cost” and allowed the country to recover from the pandemic faster than others. So far, loads remain low. Officials reported 1,280 in the current blast, which began in mid-October.

But the limits have costs. In the case of a new import screening, scientists widely believe they will do little to prevent people from becoming infected. In the midst of a recent Covid-19 epidemic in the port city of Dalian, Chinese officials this week ordered companies there that use imported frozen foods to cease their operations.

In neighboring Hebei Province, officials tested hundreds of packages after several workers from a children’s clothing factory were found to have a Covid-19. In Guangxi, a province 1,200 miles south of Hebei, officials went even further, testing every person who touched or even received a package from the factory.

Not even a person outside the factory reported testing positive.

In addition to inspecting imported frozen foods, China has demanded that packages coming from abroad be sanitized, and urged people to wear masks and gloves when they receive deliveries. International health authorities said there is a minimal chance of transmission on surfaces such as cardboard.

Chinese officials in the past have suggested that imports could bring the disease into China. They were pressured by the international scientific community and world leaders to announce more about the source of the explosion, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan almost two years ago.

Employees also continued to perform locks to deal with occasional explosions. Entire cities are immediately closed. One city in the southwest was locked four times in the past year. About 30,000 visitors to Shanghai’s Disneyland had to stay and be tested this month before being allowed to leave.

In Beijing, authorities closed dozens of pharmacies that were caught selling cough medicine without requiring customers to register with their name and ID.

The strategy could face a major challenge as China prepares to host athletes and visitors for the Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing in February.

Organizers said the Olympics and Paralympic Games will take place in a bubble in which athletes, broadcasters and journalists will have to stay. Already two foreign Olympic athletes who are in the country for related events have been positive about Covid-19, Reuters reported on Friday.

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