Zero Covid strategy: the phantom announcement that makes Shanghai tremble

VSThese are some words that have panicked millions of people. Monday, June 27, at a press conference, Cai Qi, secretary of the Communist Party of Beijing, former mayor of the Chinese capital and close to President Xi Jinping, lets slip the following sentence: “Over the next five years, Beijing will relentlessly apply its control measures and its zero Covid strategy in order to control the epidemic. »

While the Chinese government has been relaxing its health measures for several days (reopening of cafes and restaurants, timetable for the reopening of schools, etc.), the announcement, which suggests that the latter (control of entry and exit in certain cities , quarantine, regular tests, etc. could become permanent, has the effect of a thunderclap.

Nervousness and confusion

Taken over by The People’s Dailythe main organ of Chinese propaganda, the little phrase sows confusion on social networks and immediately becomes the most commented subject on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter and the country’s leading social network (more than 500 million users). .

A wave of reactions testifying to the state of nervousness of a population which, in Shanghai – where the restrictions are the strictest in the country –, has already been complying for several months with draconian protocols. “We accept the measures because we think they are temporary, testifies Alexis, a 26-year-old Frenchman living in the economic capital with 26 million inhabitants. When we read that they could last five years, we all panicked. Five years ! It feels like we’ll never get out of it, it’s hopeless…”

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Anxious to put out the fire, the newspaper immediately withdrew the mention of the five years from the article, justifying this modification by an “error” made by one of its journalists. The hashtag “For the next five years”, repeated more than a million times on Weibo, is removed from the platform. An invisibilization that also sows confusion.

“We no longer believe official announcements”

“There is no political interest in giving a deadline, it is even nonsense in terms of communication”, justifies Antoine Bondaz, China specialist and teacher at Sciences Po. it, “is not an announcement” and is no more than a hidden design of the Chinese government: “Five years corresponding to the period between two Congresses [le prochain, le XXe, se tenant à l’automne, NDLR]Cai Qi may be referring to the fact that the government intends to remain cautious on the issue for the duration of the coming five-year term”, relativizes the researcher.

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But the damage is done. And many people therefore suspect the Party cadres of integrating the zero Covid strategy into their five-year plan. “My friends, like me, no longer believe the official announcements,” confides Alexis, who fears that this little sentence is a failed act. “There have already been leaks, particularly in local communications and concerning the confinement in Shanghai which the authorities promised would not take place. They are sometimes a sign of what is happening behind the scenes, so we have learned to be wary of them…”

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