We like to update our stories when we get new info. Here is an interesting take from the Heritage Foundation’s Asia Center Director, Jeff Smith.
Why has China has persisted with Zero COVID when it’s doing so much damage and so many countries have moved on? My intuition tells me Zero COVID was viewed as a success early on and Xi was quick to take credit. When Zero COVID became closely tied to Xi’s legacy, and a symbol of his wisdom and sound policy guidance, it became very hard to roll back or change course.
I discussed this further with a friendly China watcher in India, who spent many years reporting from Beijing and always seems to have good insights. He agreed with my assessment but added some important texture: China’s initial vaccination push was specifically targeted to 18-59 year olds. This left a lot of elderly unvaccinated and created the impression vaccines weren’t safe for the elderly. (Chinese propaganda against Western vaccines also didn’t help).
Xi says to fully open up safely China would want to get to 95% of the elderly population with at least three shots, like Japan. They’re stuck at 40% and are struggling to get the number higher. They fear mass elderly deaths and a strain on the healthcare system if they abandon Zero COVID. So they botched the initial response and had a bad vaccine policy and now they’re finding it difficult to admit the failure or walk it back.
According to the latest press reporting, significant protests against COVID restrictions have erupted all over China, including for calls for Xi and other top officials to step down or be removed. (news story-access required)