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Tipsheet

Surprise: China Is Still Lying About COVID

Li Xueren/Xinhua via AP

This story hasn't received the attention it deserves, likely because Russia's failing war against Ukraine has sucked up most of the available "international news" oxygen, but it's a huge one nevertheless. Shanghai, China, is a city with more residents than the entire state of Florida. It is among the dozens of Chinese cities experiencing various degrees of harsh COVID lockdowns right now, to the point that people locked in their apartments are slowly starving. The resulting dystopic scenes are surreal and deeply disturbing (content warning): 

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People are angry – and are increasingly saying so, even in a society in which dissent is crushed and punished. Chinese censors have an easy time ordering American companies to do their bidding but have been overwhelmed by online fury on the home front lately. The Wall Street Journal interviewed dozens of Shanghai residents in recent days: 

Discontent is deepening across Shanghai, China’s largest and wealthiest city, now several weeks into a rigid lockdown aimed at crushing a Covid outbreak that is straining the nerves and affecting livelihoods of its 25 million residents and eroding the public’s trust in authorities. The effects that have played out in recent weeks—food shortages, lack of access to medical care, overcrowded quarantine centers and infants separated from their parents—have frayed nerves across a city that has long prided itself as a pragmatic financial hub at the forefront of China’s decades-long shift to a market economy. “I’ve lost confidence in this government,” said one 36-year-old Shanghai native surnamed Chen, who declined to provide his given name because it remains risky to openly criticize political leaders. “Only during a crisis can you make a proper evaluation of the government’s performance.”

Mr. Chen, who has been confined at home for more than a month, said he hasn’t been able to feed his family of four on the government-supplied rations of vegetables and milk. While he has managed to order some groceries online, soaring prices and scarce supplies of bread and other essentials risk draining his savings as the lockdown drags on, he said. “We’ve waited patiently for the lockdown to get lifted. When will this end?” he said. Shanghai eased rules in some neighborhoods this week, but most residents remain confined to their homes. Some expressed worries about food and said they are increasingly disillusioned by the prospect of an open-ended Covid lockdown. Among more than two dozen residents who spoke from lockdown, some said they are reaching a breaking point more than two years into the pandemic. Some are considering leaving the country for good...

“The damage has been done,” said Liu Yun, a 34-year-old Shanghai native and technology entrepreneur who said he has begun contemplating emigrating to Singapore while confined at home with his wife and two children. “More elites will start re-evaluating their relationship with the city and this country.” Even those who aren’t considering leaving said they expect some economic and psychological scars to endure, along with resentment toward Beijing...Eighty-seven of China’s biggest 100 cities, from Changchun in the country’s far northeast to its southern metropolis of Guangzhou, collectively accounting for more than half of China’s population and overall economic output, have imposed restrictions on movements and activities because of the current outbreak

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It's not just Shanghai, clearly. Read the whole thing. The Chinese Communist Party has pursued an insane "zero COVID" policy approach and is paying dearly for it. Johns Hopkins' Dr. Marty Makary told me last week that poor quality Chinese vaccines, spotty vaccine uptake (including among millions of older and more vulnerable Chinese), and low levels of natural immunity are now coming to a head. The virus is unstoppable, especially the current variant. Hopefully, it is sufficiently mild as to keep deaths down, but the deaths are coming. And, of course, China is lying about them

Dozens of elderly patients at a hospital in Shanghai have died after contracting Covid-19, but official government figures claim no deaths in the city have been caused by the disease since 2020. The BBC has spoken to a hospital manager and had access to correspondence sent to relatives of patients who've died during the Omicron outbreak that is sweeping through China's biggest city. We've also had access to official documents that suggest at least 27 patients from a single hospital, who weren't vaccinated, have died from what it called "underlying health problems"...In a phone conversation a manager at Donghai Hospital told us: "Of course there would be deceased with Covid. [In] Shanghai the situation is like this. How could there not be any death[s] without Covid?" In a letter sent to relatives of patients who'd died management at the hospital apologised and admitted a "lack of professionalism". They also expressed their "deepest guilt". Official figures say there have been no deaths during the current outbreak across the city; none at all.
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We've had the "with" versus "of" debate in the United States, and such distinctions are important. But in China, it seems, people only die "with" COVID; the official word is that nobody – zero people – have died due to the virus in Shanghai for two years. That's a laughable lie, but laughable lies and dangerous cover-ups are signatures of authoritarian regimes. The better question is to wonder what, if anything, Beijing hasn't lied about over the course of a pandemic that originated within its borders, as their lies and cover-ups have indisputably extended to the origins of the virus. And yet, credulous headlines like this have appeared in Western media sources: 


"How China Beat the Virus," the Times oohed and ahhed last year. Here's how China did it: By not actually doing it, and lying incessantly, culminating in a waking nightmare for hundreds of millions of its citizens. And the failures are highly visible and totally undeniable: 

China is facing what is arguably the worst crisis in governance since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Even the 1989 Tiananmen uprising did not affect as many people as the Covid lockdowns. Previous crises were political and social. This one is political and biological, easily visible, and not hidden behind towering red doors. The open defiance of government policy, thuggish enforcement of intolerable rules by “white coat” health workers (who dress in head-to-toe white bunny suits), and utter collapse of infrastructure to support the basics of survival in China’s more international and prosperous city: all of this is an unprecedented disaster. The world has been aghast at images being streamed by the connected and sophisticated people of Shanghai: people leaping from high-rises to their deaths in order to escape the lockdown. Babies separated from their parents and carted around quarantine centers in huge shopping carts. Parents beaten by the health police in front of their children. People opening their windows to scream in unison: “We’re hungry!” Who imagined that this could happen in Shanghai, one of the wealthiest cities in the world? Certainly not Shanghai people.

...Meanwhile, YouTube watchers are treated to: Police and health workers beating and dragging people off even as people claim they have tested negative. Recordings of Chinese health employees telling residents not to go to hospitals. Widespread, vocal skepticism about case reporting. Disastrous food logistics, angry reports from people claiming not to have eaten in four or five days. Breakdowns in trash collection. Deaths from non-Covid diseases, as hospitals refuse to accept patients. Complete lack of support for poorer, migrant populations, many of whom lack the resources to purchase food online or pay rent, given workplace closures. Dystopic scenes of robotic dogs and drones trumpeting propaganda messages along the empty streets of the city.   These measures, now affecting the majority of China’s economy, look like the most colossal misstep any national government has made in decades, given the mismatch between the stated purpose, the evident tactics, and the visible outcomes With its increasing centralization of power, China has trapped itself in an authoritarian feedback loop...
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Of course, starving people to death is a terrible crime for which the Chinese Communist Party is very well known, at least to the extent that Westerners learn about Communist-inflicted genocides anymore. Parting question: Are all of these criticisms racist and problematically "Sinophobic"? Does that apply to Chinese people criticizing their own government, too? It's hard to keep track of the woke rules, the purpose of which sometimes seem to be shielding Communists from deserved scrutiny and opprobrium. 

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