doom and gloom the Chinese government cares about its people?

China’s tightly-controlled media is now a far cry from the doom and gloom coverage that was once so prevalent of the risks of the virus and images of pandemic chaos around the world.

Beijing has been a long-held ally of a hardline strategy that involves mass lockdowns, forced quarantine at centralised facilities, and mass testing of millions of people. However, Beijing is now easing its grip on the situation in response to nationwide protests calling to end lockdowns and to allow for greater political freedoms.

Rapid changes in pandemic messaging have been made in state media as well as official statements. They now downplay the threat from the virus and blame local officials who over-zealously implemented Covid lockdowns.

Chong Yutian, a Guangzhou-based medicine prof, stated that the Omicron strain prevalent is “not at any time like last year’s Delta variant,” in an article published on China Youth Daily by the Communist Party.

He assured that the majority of Omicron-infected people will experience no or mild symptoms. Very few will develop severe symptoms. This is well known.

The Beijing Youth Daily reported that Covid patients who had been treated for the disease told readers to “not be too scared” and also recommended taking precautions against the virus.

A Friday analysis by People’s Daily, a state-run newspaper, cited health experts as recommending that local governments allow patients to quarantine at their homes. This would be a significant departure from existing rules.

Willy Lam, a Hong Kong-based Chinese political expert, said that this is a form of official propaganda. It prepares the people for relaxation and gives the government the chance to step down (from zero Covid).”

Experts believe Beijing is setting the stage for loosening Covid rules and creating convenient scapegoats for those who are not happy with the excessive restrictions.

The head of the country’s virus response agency has pointed out that some local officials were too zealous in their efforts to combat the virus. He urged, during a Q&A session with People’s Daily on Saturday, that they be held “strictly accountable”.

Lam stated to AFP that punishment would be given to many local officials.

One case was announced by the authorities on Saturday. A sub-district security officer in Hunan province was removed from the Communist Party for attacking a Hunan resident during a lockdown-related dispute.

The scapegoat for covid-testing companies is also becoming apparent. In recent times, state media published exposes on alleged violations of testing organizations by the state media.

Jing Zhao, a Chinese political blogger wrote that the government will first sacrifice nucleic acid companies under the pseudonym Michael Anti.

He stated that “Catching the bosses these companies can solve two issues: The people looking for scapegoats and (the fact) that abandoning nucleic acids tests and switching to more sensitive antigen tests is more consistent with Omicron’s rules and can reduce some of the pressure on pandemic management.”

The state propaganda apparatus already began to show pivots away form the zero-Covid strategy as evidence of the Chinese government’s concern for its citizens.

Local governments in the country stated earlier this week that they wouldn’t require everyone to participate in mass testing campaigns. This allows groups such as the elderly or those who live in their homes to skip the testing. While it is a slight change from the existing policy, it has been repeatedly mentioned in state media headlines.

The changes were described by Xinhua as evidence that the government “responds to what people want”.

According to Diana Fu, an associate professor of political science at University of Toronto, the Chinese Communist Party recognizes that the zero-Covid strategy has made a fundamental pillar of their legitimacy: the promise of basic living standards for citizens.

She stated that the party’s tradition of using carrots and sticks to respond to protests was to soften their tone on Covid.

“While the security apparatus is repressing protestors,” local governments are making concessions to ease Covid restrictions and allow the pressure valve to release.


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