As many try living with virus, China keeps up zero tolerance

TAIPEI , Taiwan -- Wang Lijie had planned to spend three days last month in the Gobi Desert to see the famous poplar forests as they turned a golden yellow.

As many try living with virus, China keeps up zero tolerance

TAIPEI , Taiwan -- Wang Lijie had planned to spend three days last month in the Gobi Desert to see the famous poplar forests as they turned a golden yellow.

The Beijing resident was instead stuck in Beijing for over three weeks. He spent much of that time in quarantine after authorities found a cluster COVID-19 cases near his home. More than 9,000 tourists were also trapped in Ejin Banner in China's Inner Mongolia region, which is located in the Gobi.

China has increased its tolerance for vaccinations as many countries around the globe experience an increase in their rates of vaccination. Even countries with strict COVID-containment strategies are now easing restrictions.

China was the first to adopt this approach, which included strict lockdowns and multiple rounds of mass testing as well as central quarantine. This was during the outbreak of coronavirus that struck the world in Wuhan. It continues to do so, even though it claims it has vaccinated 77% and given booster shots

Zhong Nanshan, a high-ranking government doctor, stated that the cost of managing it is really quite high. However, when compared to not managing it and relaxing (the zero tolerance policy), then that cost would be even higher."

Although the impact of these restrictions isn't widespread, it can be unpredictable. It is possible for unlucky travelers to find themselves in an undesirable place at the wrong moment, as was the case with the tourists in Gobi Desert. Some were bused 18-hours to complete their quarantine in another country. Many Beijingers have complained online that they were unable to return home after leaving on a work trip.

Haidilao, a popular hotpot restaurant chain, has decided to close 300 outlets due to the pandemic. It is also scaling back plans to open 1,200 more. Ruili in the southwest, which has been repeatedly locked down this year, has felt the strain most.

Beijing authorities see control over the virus as a point of pride and a powerful tool of propaganda. They claim that it is proof of a superior system of governance. They are proud of their ability to keep deaths low, particularly in comparison with the United States' COVID-19 response, which the Foreign Ministry spokesperson called a "total failure".

China reported approximately 4,600 deaths, while the U.S. has more than 755,000 and has a population of less than half the size.

Yanzhong Huang, a Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow, said that "It's becoming part the official narrative that promotes this approach and links it to the superiority Chinese political system."

Because opinion polls are rare and often censored, it's difficult to know how popular the policies are. Zhang Wenhong was a Shanghai doctor who briefly suggested that the virus could be transmitted to people. He was then shut down by officials and an investigation into plagiarism.

Gao Fu, the head of China’s Center for Disease Control, suggested recently that the country could be open to the world once it has 85% vaccinations. This is an indication that the government is aware that some people are interested in that.

Wang has taken 18 COVID-19 tests in the past three and a quarter weeks. He isn't complaining. He can work remotely, and has begun a video of his day with Inner Mongolian residents.

Wang stated, "Regardless of how much time or money you spent, the face of life is more important than health. Some people must make sacrifices for everyone's good health and stability.

China's strategy is unique. Many countries are now trying to live with the virus as it continues to evolve and vaccines can not fully stop it from spreading. New Zealand, which has long maintained a zero tolerance policy, announced last month that it was attempting to relax restrictions despite the outbreak. Australia, Thailand, and Singapore have all opened their borders after imposing severe travel restrictions during the pandemic.

China, however, has slashed the number international passenger flights to the country by 21% to 408 flights per semaine until March 31, while increasing cargo flights by 28%.

Singapore has allowed quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travellers from certain countries. Since then, the number of cases has increased to thousands per day. However, most of these cases are not ending up in the hospital.

Dale Fisher, a professor at the National University of Singapore's Medical School, stated that "it's completely unrealistic to believe you can stay below zero."

Even if only a few infected individuals end up in hospitals -- that could pose a problem for China's large population. This would make it difficult for a government that is focused on keeping the numbers low.

Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations said, "I think what government leaders, scholars, and public health officials are concerned about (is) that even a small opening could lead to larger outbreaks on an much larger scale."

Ruili is one of the most striking examples of China’s policies. It borders on three sides with Myanmar and has struggled against the virus.

Widely circulated online are videos of a 21-month old boy with round cheeks, who was tested 78 times. Although the boy's father refused to speak with him, he confirmed that he had shot the videos. The videos have been shared widely online by state media and have inspired empathy.

Ruili resident, who only gave his last name Xu said he can't keep track of the number of tests he has taken. Community volunteers threatened to fine him if he tried to take out trash during one lockdown.

He must pay for seven nights of quarantine in a hotel to leave the city. To do so, he can travel 10 km (6 miles) from his destination. His business, which sells jade in Myanmar, has been severely affected by these restrictions.

In late October, the Ruili government announced that it would provide 1,000 Yuan (about $150), to residents who have experienced hardship and that it would allow small and medium-sized companies to defer loan payments.

Li Hui was locked up in China's west Xinjiang region for approximately a month. He was found in Yili in the early part of October.

His mother, who lived in a nearby village at the time, injured her wrist and was unable to travel into the city due to restrictions. He pleaded with her and eventually got her an ambulance to transport her to the hospital one week later. He hasn't been able to visit her.

He said, "I don’t know how Yili’s residents can endure." "I can't bear it any longer."

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