Chinese Authorities Should Have Been Much More Sensitive to Adverse Impacts of Prolonged Lockdowns

china covid lockdown

At a time when most of the world has left far behind the stage of prolonged COVID related lockdowns, the Chinese authorities have continued with very long lockdowns in several parts of the country, justifying this as a policy of so-called zero tolerance for COVID. This is both surprising and unfortunate, as recent experience of long stretched lockdowns in many countries has made it amply clear that these can have very adverse consequences on not just livelihoods but also on various kinds of urgent health care and treatments needed by people. This can easily negate any advantages in terms of controlling COVID.

Prolonged lockdowns can seriously harm many kinds of livelihoods and drastically reduce the income of a large number of people as markets as well as many workplaces remain shut. Various perishable commodities of daily use cannot reach consumers, causing problems for producers, traders as well as consumers. Several small and medium businesses may have negative income as they have to incur certain infra-structure costs even if they are not earning anything.

Apart from loss of income, people are badly affected by loss of opportunity of social interactions which is very much a part of their daily life. When they cannot meet friends and relatives on special occasions, this social loss is felt even more.

Despite efforts to make up for closure of schools and educational institutions by online education, there is certainly adverse impact on education as experienced in recent times in many countries, and this cannot be made up easily.

In addition, several essential health care needs, sometimes even emergency needs, can be denied in times of lockdowns. Several diseases need regular doctor and hospital visits and consultation, or certain procedures need to be performed regularly. Routine vaccination schedules for children or others can be adversely affected, as also various kinds of monitoring. Maternity care and access to institutional child birth can be hampered. New disease cases may not get timely treatment, or treatment may be postponed till end of lockdowns which in some cases may prove very costly. Supply chains can also be adversely affected, or else due to loss of income people’s ability to access certain medicines and treatments may be reduced.

These experiences of recent times are all too familiar for people of various countries. At the same time, the problems faced by people were not to the same extent everywhere and depended on the extent to which the authorities were able to ensure that certain basic needs were met and supplies were maintained during lockdowns. Within a country or region the impact was different on various classes and categories of people, the worst sufferers being the poorer sections who had extremely few savings and stocks of essential commodities to get over the lockdown periods.

At the same time some big business interests have been able to benefit from conditions of pandemic related lockdowns. Authoritarian governments and officials have also found conditions of lockdowns to be suitable for pushing their agenda of governance.

Given these experiences, the Chinese authorities should have avoided the need for extending lockdown stage so much and then having such prolonged lockdowns even at this late stage. Such a pandemic response strategy may turn out to be counter-productive and hence should be reviewed by them. It will be important to see whether an alternative viewpoint on COVID response gets adequate hearing within Chines healthy policy circles in the next few days. The policy makers will also have to keep in mind the growing desperation of people on this issue, as reflected in growing protests and other expressions of resentment.

While it is true that lockdowns have been a contentious issue among policy makers elsewhere too in recent times, with various experts taking different sides, what we cannot ignore is that several eminent experts had from the very beginning of the pandemic  warned against a policy of too prolonged and stringent lockdowns, and now that we have the actual experience before us, it can be said that they have been proved right and the experience of prolonged and stringent lockdowns in several countries has been quite distressing. In several regional contexts there would be a strong case for arguing, after examining all aspects, that their net impact has been negative, in some cases quite emphatically so. There is thus a strong case for China to revise its policy regarding prolonged lockdowns.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.

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