While Shanghai has been affected for several weeks by an epidemic outbreak linked to the Omicron variant, the city announced on Monday that three people had died of the virus since the start of containment at the end of March. In total, China has reported 4,641 officially Covid-related deaths.
Shanghai announced on Monday that only three people had died of Covid-19 in the city since the start of strict confinement at the end of March, despite several hundred thousand positive cases in recent weeks. China has only reported 4,641 deaths officially linked to the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, an extremely low figure given the number of inhabitants of the most populous country in the world (1.4 billion inhabitants). A health success attributed to its zero Covid strategy: confinements as soon as cases appear, isolation of people who test positive, visas issued in dribs and drabs, quarantine on arrival in the territory or even tracing of movements.
A significant epidemic recovery
Economic capital of the country, populated by 25 million inhabitants, Shanghai has been affected for several weeks by an epidemic outbreak linked to the highly contagious Omicron variant. It led to partial containment at the end of March, then total since the beginning of April. Despite hundreds of thousands of positive cases recorded in recent weeks, no deaths had been reported so far, raising some questions in view of the low vaccination rate among seniors – a very exposed population.
Shanghai City Hall on Monday reported the deaths of three people, aged 89 to 91, saying they suffered from underlying illnesses. The two previous deaths announced in China had been announced in mid-March in Jilin province (northeast), bordering North Korea. They were the first for over a year.
A low rate of vaccination among seniors
Many residents of Shanghai, confined, have had difficulty in recent weeks to stock up on fresh produce, in particular due to the lack of people to deliver the goods. Unverified videos of dogs beaten to death because suspected of being able to transmit the virus have also caused an outcry on social networks.
Many Shanghainese also fear being sent to quarantine centers, with haphazard hygiene, where people who test positive, even asymptomatic, are sent to be isolated. For lack of space, the authorities have in some cases requisitioned private homes to place these people there, which caused clashes between police and residents last week. Shanghai, however, is not planning any easing of restrictions. The municipal health department reported 22,248 new cases on Monday – almost 90% asymptomatic. Low compared to the rest of the world, these figures are very high for China.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is making the low death toll a political argument, showing that it puts people’s lives above economic considerations, unlike Western democracies where the coronavirus has claimed countless lives. For its part, the Ministry of Health stresses that easing restrictions too much could overwhelm the health system and cause millions of deaths. In particular because the vaccination rate remains low among seniors: only a little more than half of those over 80 have received a booster dose.
A “sensitive year” for the regime
But political considerations are also at play, according to many experts. The CCP, which derives its legitimacy in part from its management of the epidemic, will organize a major meeting at the end of 2022 during which Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, should obtain, barring cataclysm, a third five-year term at the head of the Party.
“This is a sensitive and crucial year for the regime”, analyzes Lynette Ong, professor of political science at the University of Toronto (Canada). “China always places a huge emphasis on social stability. And a health crisis would potentially be very disruptive in that context.”
A political element necessarily taken into account by the Shanghai authorities. In order to ensure the isolation of those who test positive, they have installed tens of thousands of beds in exhibition centers or prefabricated structures in recent weeks.
Authorities have, however, relaxed a controversial policy of separating coronavirus-positive children from parents who test negative. The confinement of Shanghai, where a large part of Chinese foreign trade passes, continues to weigh heavily on the economy, particularly in terms of production and transport.