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Why has China enforced a "zero Covid" policy that is resulting in rare massive protests?


Chinese vaccines are basically the only ones authorized for common use in the country. For people over 80 years old, these are just 30% effective in preventing severe symptoms, and 45% against death. This percentage is much lower than Western vaccines, which provide around 80% effectiveness.


Conditioned by this poor performance, the Chinese government focused on vaccinating the young population, which has resulted in the three-dose vaccination rate for people over 80 years old in China being only 35%, one of the lowest for an industrialized country in the world.


Because the elderly in China hold a very high hierarchy in society, and the authoritarian Communist Party is guided by family-Confusian principles, the government imposed strict confinement policies since the start of the pandemic in order to protect the elderly. This strategy, of having "zero Covid cases" as an objective, has resulted in cities with more than 10 million inhabitants undergoing severe quarantines when only a few cases of contagion were detected. 


This has caused big disruptions in the activities of companies, distribution networks and the operation of Chinese ports. Because China is a major supplier of goods, this "zero Covid" policy is partly responsible for the world's economic difficulties of high inflation, product shortages and low GDP growth. 


Despite this, President Xi Jinping has said that he will not back down, declaring that this is an "evidence of the superiority of the Chinese political system" in containing the number of deaths from this virus. According to China, the country has had only 5,200 deaths from Covid so far, while the US had over 1 million. 


However, the Chinese population is becoming increasingly tired of those measures, challenging the brutal censorship and police repression that exists in the country. The protests became very violent this week after it was discovered that 10 people died inside a building caught on fire, and that rescue services did not work properly because of the lockdowns.


These protests erupt also at the same time that recent data show that Sweden, which had no lockdowns nor mask mandates, has been one of the least affected countries in Europe during the pandemic. For the first time, crowds are taking to the streets massively calling for the resignation of Xi Jinping, who has just been re-elected as president and seeks to stay in power during all his life after changing the Constitution several times in the last years.


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