Optimization of COVID policies does not equal China succumbing to the pandemic
Published: Jan 14, 2023 02:45 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

China's policies against the COVID-19 pandemic have been a target of criticism for the US government. The strict controls and quarantines required by China's dynamic zero-COVID policy were denounced as "human rights violations." As China entered 2023, it determined that the virus was no longer lethal and optimized its COVID-19 policies. This time, the Atlantic camp accused China of "endangering humanity" and began to impose restrictions on Chinese tourists. 

In his New Year's speech at the start of 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized that "Since COVID-19 struck, we have put the people first and put life first all along." Xi said China has entered a new phase of COVID response and "we have adapted our COVID-19 response in light of the evolving situation to protect the lives and health of the people to the greatest extent possible." 

For the last two months, US and European leaders and Western media have been accusing China of spreading disease and making the Chinese people miserable. I write as someone who lived through 63 days of quarantine in Shanghai in 2022: Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Chinese government has effectively mobilized the population and all resources on an unprecedented scale. As a result, China has managed to keep the virus at bay and to keep the loss of life at a surprisingly low level compared to many Western countries. 

With 1.4 billion inhabitants and still a developing country, China has bought time with tight control. 

China's social system, history and culture, values and social conscience do not allow us to stand by and watch the generation of fathers and grandfathers and babies being squeezed by the threat of death. In the UK, hundreds of people have died in just one nursing home due to the epidemic. 

Strict prevention of the spread of the disease has enabled China to weather difficult times and withstand multiple waves of epidemics. China's stringent measures have freed up precious time for research, development and implementation of vaccines and treatments, as well as for making medical supplies readily available. This has minimized the number of serious cases and deaths, and as a result, the health and safety of the population has been greatly protected. 

This achievement is an important testament to China's respect for human rights. Because the most important human right, that neoliberalism has made us forget, is the right to life! And the primary duty of governments is to protect the lives of the people. Dealing with the most severe virus outbreak of the last 100 years proved the superiority of socialism over capitalism. 

The World Health Organization-China Joint Task Force, in its report published on February 28, 2020, records this fact as follows: "China's response to the COVID-19 epidemic is the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease prevention effort in history." Moreover, "China's exceptional nationwide implementation and strict adherence to these containment measures was only possible because of the Chinese people's deep commitment to collective action in the face of a common threat." 

For most of the past three years, most Chinese had not been infected with COVID-19.  As a matter of fact, I met COVID-19 when I came to Turkey in July 2022!

Why did China move to relax its COVID policies when it was successfully pursuing a "dynamic zero-COVID" policy? The answer is simple. Because nowadays, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed in its nature. With the lethality of the Omicron variety declining and the speed of its spread increasing, China has taken the initiative to deal with the disease by changing the way it fights the epidemic. The strict measures taken over the past three years and the improvement of its capacity to fight the disease have been decisive in shifting to the new policy. China has shifted the focus of its response from "stopping the infection" to "protecting health and preventing serious cases."

The Chinese government assesses that "this change is science-based, timely and necessary." China will continue to work to make its COVID-19 response measures more science-based, targeted and responsive to the evolving situation, and to better facilitate safe and orderly cross-border travel of Chinese and foreign nationals. 

China has devoted its efforts to research and development of vaccines, rapid testing kits and medicines, launched the largest vaccination campaign in the world, and promoted the use of both traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Omicron, which has become the dominant strain of the virus globally, is transmitted very quickly, but serious cases and mortality remain low. 

China announced that it has administered nearly 3.46 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine nationwide. The vaccination rate has exceeded 92 percent in the total population and 90 percent in full vaccination. It was announced that the measures taken have significantly improved the health and personal protection capacity of the Chinese people.

With the changing of the COVID policies, the number of people infected with the COVID-19 virus in China has increased dramatically. However, the situation is progressing as predicted and is under control. The capital Beijing was the first major city to reach the peak of infection. But life is returning to normal. 

China is confident that it can protect public health and prevent serious cases, while accelerating the normalization of economic and social life to achieve a complete and final victory over the COVID-19 epidemic. 

Most of those infected with the Omicron strain recover within a few days. China has been very prudent in changing its policy. The CPC is now preparing for a new economic miracle. The Chinese government is ambitious to normalize the economy and quickly recover the losses incurred over the past years. There is foresight that China's growth rate in 2023 will exceed IMF and World Bank forecasts. 

The author is Chairman of the Turkish Chinese Business Development and Friendship Association. adnanakfirat@cinisder.org.tr