Chinese state media signals no end to zero-Covid curbs

China’s state media on Wednesday signaled no let-up in its strict zero-Covid policy, publishing an editorial — the fourth this week ahead of the Communist Party Congress — vowing to never “lie flat” on virus controls.

The messaging dashes widespread hopes from the Chinese public and overseas observers that the strategy might be relaxed after the congress, a twice-a-decade political reshuffle which begins Sunday and will set the blueprint for the country’s development.

China is the last major economy still trying to stamp out Covid-19 within its borders, through a series of harsh measures involving snap lockdowns, mass testing, and travel restrictions.

These have kept case numbers low, but left the country’s economy battered — causing knock-on effects globally — and reinforced its isolation from the world.

On Wednesday, Communist Party flagship mouthpiece the People’s Daily newspaper claimed that “lying flat has no way out”, referencing a slang term for relaxation popular among Chinese youth.

It argued loosening restrictions would overwhelm China’s medical system and lead to further mutations of the virus.

China is currently facing its worst nationwide surge in cases since early September.

The country reported its first incidence of the BF.7 Omicron subvariant in late September, which has caused a spiraling outbreak in the northern region of Inner Mongolia with over 4,000 infections as of Wednesday.

BF.7 was also detected in Shenzhen, a major manufacturing and tech hub in the southern province of Guangdong, earlier this week.

“The vaccination rate has not yet formed a sufficient barrier against severe illness and death,” the editorial wrote.

“It is precisely because of our insistence on dynamic zero-Covid that we have protected people’s lives and health to the greatest extent possible.”

Only 86 percent of elderly Chinese have received two doses of the Covid vaccine, according to the People’s Daily, while the more effective foreign mRNA vaccines are not approved in China.

The People’s Daily piece follows on from two successive editorials this week on the same theme, portraying Covid control as an existential struggle for China that pits its political system against the West.

“The struggle against the epidemic is a trial of material strength as well as a battle of spirits,” it said in a Tuesday editorial.

The article was trending on social media platform Weibo on Tuesday, but online comment sections were disabled.

State news agency Xinhua also ran an editorial Tuesday vowing never to “lie flat”.

In the lead-up to the congress opening in Beijing on Sunday, officials have rushed to squash outbreaks across the country, imposing new lockdowns and restrictions in major cities like Shanghai.

President Xi Jinping, who has staked his political legitimacy on the zero-Covid policy, is expected to secure a norm-breaking third term at the event.

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