Skip to content
In Shanghai, the Zero Covid strategy undermines the social contract

The Chinese authorities are beginning to let go of the dissatisfaction of the Shanghainese. Inability of the local government to ensure food supplies, separation of children and their parents, workers confined to their factories, isolation centers with questionable hygiene, small businesses in bankruptcy, delivery men who have been sleeping under bridges… under a bell since three weeks, the financial capital and largest city in the country is bubbling. So much so that we witness rare scenes of residents coming to blows with the police and members of neighborhood committees or of people screaming their anger at the windows.

This Wednesday, April 20, the municipality announced a slight relaxation of health restrictions against Covid-19 and the Omicron variant. Technically, 12 of the 25 million inhabitants of Shanghai have been authorized, for the past week, to leave their homes while respecting the limit of their residence or their district. The metropolis reports a total of 17 deaths and 18,000 positive cases, the highest number of contaminations since the start of the epidemic in 2020. If the population is vaccinated at nearly 90%, the vaccination coverage of the elderly unsatisfactory. A communication campaign has just been launched for them.

600 strategic companies authorized to restart

Thus, the Chinese are beginning to question the zero Covid strategy which, if it was able to give results at first, is being undermined by a less deadly but more contagious variant. Here, the authorities see the danger dawning: this health policy also undermines the social contract which has been based, for forty years, on the constant increase in the standard of living. However, the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could be undermined by the shutdown of many companies, the poor economic health of households and their growing indebtedness. 600 companies considered strategic have thus been authorized to resume production. The clouds continue to gather: economists no longer rule out a recession before the 20th and CPC Congress scheduled for the fall. This major political meeting should outline the major five-year guidelines and confirm President Xi Jinping for a third term. Faced with this crisis, the CCP has recently solicited citizens’ opinions on environmental policy, governance, economic and democratic reforms. From April 15 to May 16, society is invited to express itself through the sites and applications of People’s Daily, Xinhua and China Media Group.

As is regularly the case when a crisis arises, the central authorities now allow criticism of local officials on social networks. We cannot exclude, as was the case in Wuhan, epicenter of the epidemic, a series of dismissals in Shanghai even though the city often serves as a springboard for national positions at congresses. The current convulsions could well reshuffle the cards.