Signs of a COVID Strategy Shift in China

Some relief in Hong Kong . . . 

On Monday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that a series of COVID-19 restrictions would be eased in April. Included is the lifting of the ban on flights from nine countries, including Canada, on April 1. The announcement follows public grievances over Hong Kong’s harsh zero-COVID policies during the city’s fifth wave of infections. The most recent wave hit some communities especially hard, including refugees who are unable to buy food due to surging prices, and ex-pat families leaving the city in search of a freer environment in which to raise their children.

Hope on the horizon?

Other restrictions being relaxed include the suspension of compulsory city-wide testing, the reduction of hotel quarantines for fully vaccinated residents returning from abroad (from 14 days to seven starting April 1), and the resumption of in-person classes for students (on April 19). The new policies come at a time when COVID-19 deaths in the city remain relatively high, and reports emerge that the Chinese-made SinoVac vaccine, the most widely administered in Hong Kong, may be less effective than others. A shift from current restrictions is significant for Hong Kong because it is one of the last jurisdictions in the world to maintain a zero-COVID strategy. Despite these changes, members of the business community claim that the government needs to do better to maintain Hong Kong’s status as an international finance centre as a record-high number of business people are leaving the city and relocating to Singapore.

Precarity on the Mainland . . .

As Shenzhen, a metropolis of 18 million that links Hong Kong to the Mainland, emerges from its seven-day lockdown under the zero-COVID strategy, it is unclear if China more generally will ease up on zero-COVID. The country has recently reported its first deaths in over a year in Jilin City, in northeastern Jilin province, prompting a three-day lockdown that started Monday night. This morning, Shenyang, a neighbouring city in Jilin province, announced a lockdown for its nine million frustrated residents. Restrictions have been enacted in several cities across the country, including a 24-hour ban on traffic in Tangshan near Beijing, and the closure of the Disney Resort in Shanghai. In the country’s worst surge of COVID-19, local authorities are scrambling again to prevent a strain on their health-care systems.