China wants Covid patients to go to work.the public is less sure

A version of this story appears in CNN’s Now in China newsletter, updated 3 times a week, and explores what you need to know about China’s rise and its impact on the world. Register gentlemen.


Just a few weeks ago, catching COVID-19 in China meant being taken to a government quarantine for an indefinite stay, locking down your entire residential building and trapping your neighbors at home for days or weeks.

Now, as the country rapidly eases restrictions, millions of people are being told to keep working — even if they are infected.

Cities such as Wuhu, Chongqing and Guiyang, as well as Zhejiang Province, which has a population of more than 100 million people, have all recently issued instructions to public sector workers, pointing to a shift from infection prevention to allowing life and work to resume.

In similar statements posted on their city government websites, the governments of Chongqing and Wuhu said asymptomatic and mildly ill workers could “go to work normally after taking necessary protective measures according to their health conditions and job requirements.”

Zhejiang provincial and health leaders gave similar instructions at a news conference on Sunday, with one official suggesting that key teams consider a rotation schedule “to ensure uninterrupted work and maintain order when the outbreak is severe.” According to officials, Guiyang followed suit on Tuesday, media reports said.

The push to reopen comes as China eases rules on testing, quarantine and other pandemic policies, a far cry from a costly zero-coronavirus policy.

for three years, Its strict approach has kept the country’s Covid cases and deaths relatively low. But it’s also wreaking havoc on the economy and people’s mental health.

The ongoing cycle of outbreaks and lockdowns has coincided with record youth unemployment, supply chain disruptions and the collapse of a real estate sector that accounts for about 30% of China’s GDP.

Meanwhile, chaos ensued in cities such as Shanghai amid massive lockdowns, with residents reportedly cut off from food, basic supplies and even emergency medical care — sparking a furor against authorities and sparking a rare wave of protests in November. Public protest.

Covid control workers walk past a closed store near a neighborhood where residents are being monitored for Covid-19 health on Dec. 4 in Beijing.

The central government’s decision earlier this month to move away from Covid-free will undoubtedly bring comfort to the beleaguered economy and frustrated residents. But the sudden U-turn, which appeared to have been made with little prior warning or preparation, caused feelings of whiplash and confusion among many.

“A few months ago, if you went out like this, you would be sentenced,” one person commented on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, under the resumption of work announcement.

Bangni Wang, a fintech worker in Ningbo, the industrial hub of Zhejiang, told CNN that a colleague with symptoms of COVID-19 continued to work in the office this week but had a fever.

“I hope that when encountering such a situation, health is still the first priority and work is the second,” she said.

Ryan Manuel, founder of Bilby, a Hong Kong-based company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze Chinese policy, said local governments essentially have a “get out of jail” card for their economic performance during the pandemic.

“It’s important that you follow the central Covid policy,” he said. “The economic growth numbers, all these different things that you measure, they’re all reduced to — ‘We don’t have a coronavirus outbreak, everything is fine.'”

But, he added, the central government’s approach had changed: “We’re not going to give you that leeway … we’re going to judge you on growth again.”

This shift in priorities is clearly reflected in the government’s messaging, with Chinese experts and state media downplaying the seriousness of Omicron and instead emphasizing the importance of economic recovery.

Stabilizing economic growth is the top priority for 2023, the top leader of the Central Economic Work Conference, a key annual meeting that ended on Friday, said in a statement. They also said policymakers would loosen their grip on the country’s private sector – a departure from the regulatory crackdown that has thrown China’s largest private companies into disarray in recent years.

Manuel said that while the economy has struggled for years, Chinese leaders may now be more comfortable adjusting policy after October’s closely watched Communist Party congress.

Officials across the country are racing to contain Covid cases ahead of a highly sensitive once-in-a-decade leadership reshuffle that has seen Chinese leader Xi Jinping emerge stronger than ever in his third term.

“Before the party congress, you don’t take chances,” Manuel said. “But once the party convention is over, you don’t have that restraint.”

But this boost to economic growth has come at a cost, as has become apparent with reports of surging cases across the country, widespread drug shortages and crematoria struggling to keep up.

Under current conditions, the nationwide reopening could kill nearly 1 million people, according to CNN calculations based on a study released last week by professors at the University of Hong Kong. The surge in infections “could overwhelm health systems in many parts of the country,” added the paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Given the rapid shift from mandatory testing to self-testing at home, it has been difficult to gauge the extent of the virus’ spread. To complicate matters, many of the restrictions and rules around returning to work are divided at the local level.

On December 20, Beijing, a temporary fever clinic converted from a stadium, and a hospital bed in a compartment.

Wang, a Ningbo worker, told CNN that a former colleague did not receive any support from his superiors after he fell ill recently.

“You know what the first thing the company sent him? It was his work laptop. It was outrageous,” she said, adding that while she understood the need for the business to stay in business, “maybe because I It’s a worker, and I have the most sympathy for workers.”

As fears of an impending wave of cases spread, subway systems and streets have been emptied in recent weeks, unusual for this time of year when China does not celebrate Christmas and most businesses remain open.

In the capital, Beijing, which is experiencing the worst outbreak since the pandemic began, subway postings online said ridership on Monday was just 2.21 million, 58% lower than the average daily ridership on weekdays from early October to early December. % above. Similar declines were seen in other major cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The anxiety was mirrored online, with many shocked by the new directive.

“I think the local government that introduced this policy is extremely irresponsible,” read a pinned post on Weibo, with the hashtag viewed more than 240 million times on Tuesday. “Asymptomatic and mild patients are still contagious … and many have elderly relatives and children at home.”

Some took a more cynical tone, criticizing the decision for prioritizing the economy at the expense of workers’ well-being and demanding the same be expected of their superiors.

“In other words, if you are sick, either take leave and deduct your salary, or keep working,” one Weibo user wrote.

Another commented: “Sounds like putting money over life.”

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