A tale of three hot spots . . .
More than a month into China’s Omicron outbreak, cities across the country have enacted strict measures to prevent repeats of Jilin and Shanghai. Cities in the northeastern province of Jilin were the first to lock down in early March as overlooked cases broke out in schools and senior homes. As Jilin’s outbreak eventually subsided, Shanghai became the country’s worst COVID hot spot in late March. Officials lost control of skyrocketing infections in that city and scrambled to implement a strict lockdown with inadequate human resources and ineffective resource allocation, resulting in abysmal quarantine conditions. The city of Guangzhou, in contrast, has turned to the successful example of neighbouring Shenzhen, responding to a small cluster of new infections with mass testing, district lockdowns, and transportation restrictions.
Starvation-driven criticism of zero-COVID . . .
Unlike in previous outbreaks, Chinese governments at different levels have quickly disciplined and dismissed district and city-level officials in localities that have experienced large-scale infections. While the approach is widely considered a play to popular opinion, it is falling on deaf ears as the public grows increasingly critical of the country’s approach to pandemic response. Food shortages in Jilin and Shanghai have contributed to widespread dissatisfaction. And despite censorship on major social media platforms, reports of starvation in quarantined cities have pushed urbanites across the country to stockpile necessities in case of flash lockdowns. Non-COVID patients have also died following delays in care due to strict anti-outbreak measures in hospitals.
A shudder across global supply chains . . .
China’s response to the current COVID wave has put factories, trucks, and ports across the country on hold. Though authorities in Jilin – an important breadbasket – allowed farm labourers to leave locked-down cities in time for planting season, difficulties in acquiring fertilizers and other supplies could severely impact this year’s harvests. Both Jilin and Shanghai are also major car manufacturing centres, with outbreaks forcing the closure of factories for automakers such as Toyota and Tesla. Potential lockdowns in Guangzhou and the surrounding area could create further shortages, though some factories are creating “bubbles” to keep themselves open. And containers of imported goods are piling up in the Port of Shanghai, which may result in backlogs in other ports. Delayed or reduced exports from China will exacerbate the rise in global prices already skyrocketing from the Russia-Ukraine war.