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A 13-year-old Chinese boy was home alone for 66 days in Kunshan in eastern China while his parents got caught up in a coronavirus lockdown in Shanghai. As the South China Morning Post reported, the boy took care of himself as well as his family’s dog and cat. The boy’s parents organized food deliveries for him but those visits stopped in April for several weeks when officials imposed a lockdown on Kunshan, too.
Stories like this one are proliferating as Chinese President Xi Jinping presses on with his “zero covid” strategy that aims to eliminate the coronavirus in the country. The draconian lockdowns, forced detentions based on close contacts, even when people test negative, and lack of services like food deliveries for folks in quarantine has frustrated citizens, wrote Reuters.
Videos have circulated showing people scuffling against hazmat suit-wearing public health officials and police officers who are ordering them to comply with the government’s orders, CNN added.
And earlier this month, internet users in China overwhelmed censors with a six-minute viral video called, “Voices of April” that aired footage and audio recordings of some of the most desperate moments of the lockdown, the Washington Post reported. Other videos that briefly aired online included footage of residents banging pots and pans in protest of food shortages and musicians playing “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the musical Les Misérables.
Meanwhile, botanists in Shanghai have urged hungry residents stuck inside their homes not to dig up roots and other plants around their apartment complexes lest they poison themselves. “It was eerily reminiscent of the desperate times of the Great Leap Forward, a period when China saw mass famine from 1959-1961 when the bark was stripped from trees by starving people,” explained Foreign Policy magazine.
Xi’s zero Covid-19 policy has ramifications that reach far beyond China, too. As Axios explained, much of the world depends not only on Chinese factories to make and export goods but also on Chinese customers to buy and import stuff.
The overheating post-pandemic economy, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the economic impact of locking down Shanghai, Beijing and other cities in China have taken a toll on global supply chains, according to CNBC. Slumping demand in China has suppressed copper prices worldwide, for example. A drop-off in Chinese consumption has even put downward pressure on oil prices late last month, Al Jazeera added, even as the cost of oil skyrocketed.
An open question is whether the crisis will undermine Xi. Covid-19 might have helped the Chinese leader focus on domestic issues rather than on his closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But, as the Diplomat noted, the lockdowns, along with border clashes with India, tensions over Taiwan, criticism of China’s policies in the South China Sea and a generally slowing economy have put enormous pressure on Xi to find a way back to health, security and prosperity.
Whether the lockdowns prove to be worth it is an open question. Some believe, however, that it might have already cost Xi by weakening his hold on the country.