Most countries have largely lifted their covid prevention protocols, but China looks set to hold on to its covid surveillance and control apparatus for the long haul.
Ma Xiaowei, director of China’s national health commission, laid out the country’s long-term vision around the pandemic in an article (link in Chinese) published in the key Communist Party journal Qiushi yesterday (May 16). Ma said China will enhance its efforts to control covid cases in their early stages, including normalizing routine covid testing and conducting weekly tests in cities of more than 10 million.
China will also turn its Fangcang, or mobile cabin hospitals—makeshift healthcare facilities built around existing public venues to isolate covid patients with mild symptoms—into dedicated, permanent fixtures, wrote Ma. These types of pop-up facilities were first built in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in early 2020, and were later adopted across the country.
“The global epidemic is still at a high level, and the virus is still mutating. There is still great uncertainty in the final direction of the pandemic, it is not the time when we can relax and rest,” wrote Ma. “[We need to] resolutely fight against words and deeds that distort, doubt, and deny the country’s epidemic prevention policies and strategies.”
Ma’s remarks come as China has increased its efforts to achieve “dynamic zero-covid,” a strategy of eliminating cases through draconian measures that Chinese president Xi Jinping recently reiterated the country will is committed to, despite the mounting economic and social costs.
Local authorities in places like Shanghai have used mass lockdowns, covid testings, and even the fencing off of compounds to reach this target, leading to over two months of lockdown for many in the city. The city’s new daily infection tally peaked on April 13, when Shanghai recorded 27,000 cases. On Tuesday (May 17), the Shanghai government announced that all of its 16 districts have achieved “social zero-covid,” which means the areas haven’t had a new case for three consecutive days.
China’s bid to normalize covid prevention protocols, however, has some feeling uneasy. “Will they put anyone that they don’t like in Fangcang hospitals in the future?” asked a user on China’s Weibo regarding the news. “From signals like this it seems our life in 2023 will still be living with covid prevention protocols,” said another.