“With my two children we went on New Year’s vacation to Thailand,” says Chen Lu, 35, from Chengdu, who returned to China a week ago. “After three years of confinement and control, we were able to forget all the past tensions and pressures”, she says on the phone on an encrypted message. Although the trauma has not completely disappeared from his mind, Chen Lu acknowledges that “regaining the freedom to travel has been good”.
Back home, she was marked by the absence of visible traces of these “three years of extreme checks, as if nothing had happened”. Three months after the end of the ‘zero Covid’ policy which imposed daily PCR checks, travel restrictions, store closures and regular lockdowns on more than a billion Chinese people, the iron barriers blocking the streets have gone, the PCR test booths too.
“As if the government wanted to remove all traces of the drama”
“The urban landscape has totally changed, confirms Lu Yi, waiter in a restaurant in Shanghai, as if the government wanted to erase all traces of the drama that we have experienced for years. “The implementation of PCR tests in the country (excluding quarantine centers) will have cost around 200 billion yuan (27 billion euros), according to the American firm Goldman Sachs, quoted by the Bloomberg agency – the equivalent of the GDP of Cyprus.
The regime prides itself on having won the victory against the virus
China’s top leaders last week hailed the “miracle” of the country’s exit from its very strict zero Covid policy, calling it a “big decisive victory”, according to state media. After lifting the very strict health measures in early December, China experienced an explosion of infections raising fears that the most populous country in the world could become fertile ground for new, more transmissible or more serious strains. According to the report of a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, more than 200 million people have been treated for Covid, including 800,000 seriously ill patients, but the situation is now “on track”.
The true scale of the outbreak is difficult to quantify as official data represents only a tiny fraction of the actual number of cases. However, hospitals and crematoriums in major cities, including Beijing, have been overwhelmed. In the capital, there is talk of 83,000 deaths from Covid, a figure that many researchers consider to be greatly underestimated because it only includes those who died in hospital and not those who died at home.
There would have been between a million and a million and a half deaths
In addition, the criteria used by China only include deaths caused directly by the Covid virus. Thus, according to several studies carried out by various epidemiological research institutes cited by the American daily newspaper The New York Times, there would have been between a million and a million and a half deaths. But all the researchers agree that “this is only speculation, and that without full transparency from the Chinese authorities, we will never know the exact death toll”.
Signs indicate that the wave of Covid-19 is running out of steam. Thus, the French authorities have decided to no longer require a negative PCR test since February 16 for travelers coming from China. This measure was taken in early January in the face of the surge in cases. The United Kingdom, Italy and the United States have also lifted health restrictions.
Where is the WHO investigation?
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declares that the Covid-19 epidemic which appeared a few weeks earlier in China has become a global pandemic. The coronavirus named Sras-CoV-2 was identified in China, in Wuhan, at the end of 2019. But the primary origin has still not been established.
In early 2021, a team of specialists, under the leadership of WHO, investigated in Wuhan. His report concluded that the virus was transmitted to humans by an intermediate animal. But the restrictive conditions which surrounded the mission on the spot were severely criticized.
On February 15, 2023, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said he was doing everything to get a “response” from China. He was reacting to an article in the scientific journal Nature claiming that the WHO had suspended the second phase of the investigation into the origins of the pandemic because of the lack of cooperation from Beijing.
According to the WHO, 312 million cases of Covid-19 have been identified worldwide (as of January 12, 2022) and 5.5 million people have died.