In Germany, Europe and the USA, the corona pandemic is as good as over. The majority of people can consciously decide for or against a mask, there are almost no measures left. In China it was very different for a long time. The population there had to endure the strictest measures over the past three years. For weeks and months, people were locked in their apartments that were far too small, or put straight into a quarantine hotel. Then, at the beginning of December, everything is suddenly over, says stern correspondent Jens Mühling in the 444th episode of the podcast "important today". The Chinese government is ending the strict zero-Covid policy that has been in place until then, and is abolishing all rules. Amazing even for Mühling, who has been reporting on China for years and has been in the country since November: "It was amazing how quickly all the measures were lifted at once."
Since then, the numbers have been increasing rapidly, with an estimated several million infections per day. The Chinese New Year, which is celebrated until February 7th, also begins on Sunday. Then millions of people drive to their families in the country, the Chinese Ministry of Transport expects more than two billion trips in these weeks. The government is therefore even increasing the capacities and stocks of medicines in rural clinics.
But the Chinese leadership had to change course. Because in addition to the infections caused by Omikron, the strict measures were no longer economically viable, explains Jens Mühling: "It became very expensive for China. That impacted economic growth and the communities ran out of money because every few days they had to complete their had to have the population tested." Due to the many lockdowns, many shops and restaurants also had to close: "Youth unemployment was recently at almost 20 percent because many shops that simply couldn't survive the zero-Covid policy closed."
What still surprises the correspondent is the communication from the government in Beijing. After the regime had presented itself as a "guarantor of public health", everyone was suddenly responsible for themselves, according to Mühling: "I was amazed at how uncomplainingly this political swerve was accepted by a large part of the population." Criticism is only voiced behind closed doors. And there are hardly any official figures that would give cause for criticism. Key figures for infection rates and deaths are largely based on estimates and people can hardly be tested anymore. In addition, with the end of the zero-Covid policy, Beijing also changed the way the number of Covid deaths was counted, the correspondent explains: "Now China only counts people as Covid dead who actually die of acute lung failure. And very few people do that. Most die because they have previous illnesses, for example. But that no longer counts." Nevertheless, China had to report around 60,000 deaths on Monday under pressure from the WHO, previously the government had spoken of only 40 deaths between December 8, 2022 and January 12, 2023. According to Jens Mühling, the actual number for this period is likely to be significantly higher than 60,000.
Many families have lost relatives as a result of the change in policy. Because immunity levels and vaccination rates are low, and those who are vaccinated at all got the not so effective Chinese vaccine Sinovac. Nevertheless, many people are happy that the strict rules have come to an end, Mühling describes the mood in the country: "The joy that something like normality is returning dominates a lot. Even if the price for this is very high right away."
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