Epidemias

A makeshift hospital for Covid-19 patients in China in 2020. EPA, via Shutterstock

I caught Covid for the first time in early December.

I panicked when I saw the two lines on my rapid antigen test indicating a positive result. China’s government was still clinging to its “zero Covid” approach of using mass lockdowns and testing in a vain attempt to stop the virus from spreading. Would the dreaded health workers in their head-to-toe protective white suits, who seemed to have taken over the country, come to drag me away to a grim quarantine facility?

Millions of Chinese had been living in fear of that knock on the door. So I hid in my Beijing apartment.…  Seguir leyendo »

Passengers at a Shanghai railway station during the travel rush ahead of Lunar New Year, January 16, 2023. Aly Song/Reuters

When I was a little boy in rural China, one of my happiest moments was seeing my dad getting off the ship from Shanghai, carrying the load of goods he had purchased for the Lunar New Year – also known as the Spring Festival.

At that time, my dad worked for a tailor factory in suburban Shanghai, and only returned home when the Lunar New Year was around the corner.

This, after all, is the most important festival in China, with roughly 4,000 years of history.

For hundreds of millions of migrant workers across China, the 2023 Lunar New Year – happening on January 22 – will be a particularly special celebration.…  Seguir leyendo »

At the emergency department of a hospital in Chengdu, China, December 2022. Tingshu Wang / Reuters

China experienced monumental upheaval at the end of 2022. For three years, Chinese President Xi Jinping waged what he termed a “people’s war against COVID-19”, an uncompromising campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections that became both a nationalistic rallying cry and a symbol of Chinese pride. In that time, his government subjected citizens to intense digital surveillance, frequent harsh lockdowns, and the constant threat of being consigned to quarantine facilities in the event of a positive test. These measures did have the effect of preventing outbreaks in China of the scale that occurred in other countries, such as neighboring India or the United States.…  Seguir leyendo »

Las imágenes que vemos estos días de los hospitales de China nos retrotraen a los primeros meses de 2020 en España y otros países europeos. Un contraste que nos aturde, pues estos días de Navidad hemos actuado como si la pandemia fuera ya parte del pasado, solo a la espera de la declaración oficial de su finalización por la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS). Los únicos restos que nos quedan de los momentos más duros son las mascarillas en el transporte, en algunos casos de manera muy relajada.

¿Qué está pasando? ¿Estamos de nuevo en marzo de 2020, con Wuhan al fondo y viendo cómo se acerca el virus por la Ruta de la Seda a la atemorizada Europa, afectando en primer lugar a Italia?…  Seguir leyendo »

El 11 de marzo de 2020, el director general de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS), Tedros Adhanom, declaró pandemia la epidemia de coronavirus, plaga planetaria, problema de todos. Advirtió de que estaba haciendo sonar la alarma alta y clara, y que muchos países no estaban tomando las medidas adecuadas por un problema de recursos o capacidad o determinación, pero lo que no dijo Adhanom es que todos esos países las iban a tener que tomar con un problema adicional gordísimo pendiendo sobre sus cabezas: falta de tiempo. A él y a la OMS les había costado dios y ayuda no ya declarar pandemia a la epidemia de coronavirus, sino declararla emergencia internacional sanitaria mucho antes y mucho mejor, cuando el virus aún podía ser confinado en un país en vez de la humanidad entera, en todos los países.…  Seguir leyendo »

Estamos viviendo un déjà vu.

Hace ahora tres años empezaron a llegar a Europa las primeras noticias acerca de un nuevo virus que asolaba una ciudad china de la que la mayoría no habíamos oído hablar nunca: Wuhan. En ese momento, esta fue sólo una más de las muchas noticias que se publicaron en los diarios. Pero no ocupó ninguna portada.

Viajeros embarcando en el aeropuerto internacional de Xiamen, en la provincia china de Fujian. Mark. R. Cristino/EFE/EPA

Nos tiramos de cabeza al nuevo año sin prestar demasiada atención a este asunto. Había otros que parecían más importantes.

Pero pasaron las semanas y, aunque seguían llegando noticias de cómo se propagaba la nueva enfermedad, la Covid seguía sin ser motivo de preocupación.…  Seguir leyendo »

Long lockdowns, tough learning conditions and family separations have made inequality worse for China’s children and teenagers © FT montage: Getty Images/VCG/AFP

In late September, Tashi, a student in a rural village of fewer than 100 people in south-eastern Tibet, returned to school after a six-week lockdown.

The 15-year-old’s grades had deteriorated markedly after weeks of trying to take classes on a smartphone with patchy internet in a crowded house while being cared for by ageing grandparents. His parents were 750km away in Lhasa, the capital, working.

“It was very difficult to concentrate during the lockdown. My three younger siblings were also taking classes in a noisy house”, he says, sitting next to baskets of dried fungi and herbal medicines, which are his village’s main trade.…  Seguir leyendo »

People at a Covid-19 testing booth in Shanghai, China, 20 December 2022. Photograph: Alex Plavevski/EPA

Over the past weeks, Beijing has become the first city to go through the infection peak, and life and work are returning to normal in the capital. The Covid-19 situation in China is generally stable and controllable, and people are making plans to work, study and travel.

That’s why the Chinese government has announced that, starting from 8 January, Covid-19 will be managed with measures against Class B instead of the more serious Class A infectious diseases in accordance with the law. There will also be new cross-border travel rules. For visitors to China, no Covid test will be mandatory upon arrival and no centralised quarantine will be required if someone tests positive while in the country.…  Seguir leyendo »

El Gobierno chino ha vuelto a desmontar todos los pronósticos. Después de las multitudinarias protestas contra la política covid cero que se extendieron por China, algunos pensaban que el Partido redoblaría su apuesta por las restricciones, para no parecer débil ante los manifestantes. Otros creían (y aquí me incluyo) que iría reduciendo la covid cero de manera gradual, sobre todo una vez pasaran los esperados contagios del invierno y llegara la primavera.

Pero el Partido no ha hecho ni lo uno ni lo otro: ha eliminado restricciones de manera radical, realizando un giro libertario que contrasta brutalmente con el paternalismo y control que suponía la covid cero.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man wearing a protective mask and face shield worships at the Buddhist Jing'an Temple in Shanghai on Dec. 23. (Aly Song/Reuters)

“Have you had covid yet?”

The question has become an opening line of conversation — and even a greeting between friends and strangers alike.

For three years, the coronavirus was a specter for most people in China, something we heard about from the news or social media but had not seen up close. Before December, I didn’t know anyone here who had had covid-19 — or at least was willing to say so. Covid sometimes felt like a myth shaped by the government’s stringent “zero covid” measures: widespread lockdowns; travel and mobility restrictions; endless PCR tests conducted by an army of health workers in white hazmat suits; the threat of removal to centralized quarantine facilities; and the various stresses and fears caused by all of this.…  Seguir leyendo »

People visit a bar in Hong Kong on Thursday. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

The people of Hong Kong are greeting New Year’s Eve with a mixture of excitement, relief and a fair degree of uncertainty. The government is finally lifting most covid-related restrictions after nearly three seemingly interminable years.

Starting at 7 a.m. Thursday, workers began removing the ubiquitous vaccine QR code scanning machines, which had verified people’s vaccine status (proof of vaccination was required for entry to most premises during much of the pandemic). Then the WhatsApp messages and questions began flying on the group chat of the Club Managers' Association (which represents more than three dozen of the private members' clubs in Hong Kong): “Can we open saunas and steam rooms?”…  Seguir leyendo »

China gira 180 grados en la lucha contra la covid

Tras casi tres años de lucha abierta contra la covid, con confinamientos y test masivos regulares, China ha decido eliminar las restricciones relacionadas con la política de covid cero pero no de manera gradual, como el Gobierno chino suele hacer las cosas, sino de repente y a espuertas.

El giro en la política covid de China es tan vertiginoso como importante para el resto del mund o. Se estima que entre un 10% o 15% de la población mundial será contagiada —de manera prácticamente simultánea— hasta que China alcance la inmunidad de rebaño. La decisión de vivir con el virus no es nueva.…  Seguir leyendo »

La COVID-19 y el contrato social chino

El Partido Comunista de China (PCCh) convocó en octubre a su 20.° Congreso Nacional, principalmente para confirmar el control del presidente Xi Jinping sobre el liderazgo del país. Todo salió acorde a su plan: los cargos del Comité Permanente, principal organismo de gobierno del PCCh, solo quedaron a cargo de sus secuaces más devotos. Ahora que Xi consiguió un tercer mandato como secretario general —y, con ello, como presidente— por primera vez desde la época de Mao Zedong un solo hombre tiene el poder absoluto en China.

Desapareció así el concepto del liderazgo colectivo y acotado en el tiempo que introdujo Deng Xiaoping después de la muerte de Mao, una época en que China recién empezaba su exitosísima fase de modernización.…  Seguir leyendo »

¿Y de la covid qué?

Alguna vez oímos que de lo poco bueno que se puede atribuir al catastrófico año 2022 está la superación de la pandemia de la COVID. Pues no está tan claro si reconocemos que esta pandemia ha arrastrado mucho más que problemas científicos y se ha convertido en un problema de democracia, de transparencia, de libertad de expresión, de libertades en general, etc… Vaya por delante que el que esto firma, y su familia, tienen al menos tres inoculaciones, y muy contentos de ello. Es más admiramos que la competencia científico-técnica y el avance de conocimientos de la especie humana haya sido capaz de desarrollar en unos meses un remedio de emergencia que ha salvado millones de vidas en el planeta y evitado mucho sufrimiento.…  Seguir leyendo »

Inevitable Outbreaks

In 1918, the world was struck by the Great Influenza, which killed between 25 and 100 million people over three years. The pandemic took people in the prime of their lives, with most victims between the ages of 20 and 40. In the United States, where about 675,000 died, some have estimated that it was responsible for shortening life expectancy by up to 12 years. Despite the havoc wreaked by the Great Influenza, it didn’t take long for people to move on and for memories to fade. Americans especially came to think of such events as things of the past—relics from the time of tenement living and premodern medicine.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Shanghai, Wondering What It Was All For

For nearly three years, leaving my apartment involved a routine not unlike an aircraft pilot’s before takeoff. Mask: check. Anti-viral hand sanitizer: Check. Green code on my smartphone reflecting latest negative Covid test: Check. Courage to actually go outside and risk getting ensnared in an abrupt lockdown somewhere: Check.

And then, suddenly, China’s cumbersome “zero Covid” system and alarmist propaganda was gone. Almost overnight, a government that had only recently pledged to “unwaveringly stick” to its no-tolerance approach has swung to the other extreme, spinning the roulette wheel of public health and letting the virus rage among an anxious and utterly confused population.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mil días en la tierra sin Covid

En China, la cotidianeidad resultaba hasta hace bien poco un material quebradizo. Una tarde cualquiera, por ejemplo, te disponías a salir de tu casa en el centro de Pekín y... no salías, pues una banda de plástico cubría tu puerta sin que mediara aviso alguno. Habías caído víctima, no del Covid, sino de algo mucho más inquietante: la Covid-cero. Esto le ocurrió al arriba y abajo firmante hace dos semanas, como podría haber ocurrido cualquier otro día de los últimos mil: los dos años y nueve meses que China ha mantenido su hermética estrategia sanitaria. Algunos, menos afortunados, encontraron barrotes de hierro soldados desde fuera.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dejar morir una ley por aburrimiento es peor que hacer una mala ley. Es obligarla a languidecer, dejarla expuesta al escarnio público, humillarla en la picota, ponerla de rojo en un escaparate de Ámsterdam.

Es hacer leña del árbol caído, sacar a una vieja gloria en el minuto 80 de partido en campo contrario, es Norma Desmond en El crepúsculo de los dioses.

Cuando se deja morir a una ley por aburrimiento, se pierde el respeto por esa ley y, en consecuencia, por todas las demás. Por eso, cuando se gobierna con desidia y no hay atrevimiento para derogar una medida, se incurre en una gran irresponsabilidad.…  Seguir leyendo »

Xi Jinping’s Covid Crisis Is Really an Opportunity

The public discontent vented in bold demonstrations last month against China’s Covid containment policies represents the greatest domestic crisis President Xi Jinping has faced in his decade in power. His government quickly smothered the protests. It would be tempting to view things now as a slow-burn stalemate between a restless population and an unyielding authoritarian government. But the Communist Party’s relationship with the Chinese people is more complex than that.

As abruptly as it cracked down on the demonstrators, Mr. Xi’s government essentially yielded to their main demand, pivoting away from its unpopular “zero Covid” strategy in a striking display of responsiveness.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the weeks since Chinese authorities suppressed the anti-lockdown protests that began on November 25th, the “zero-covid” policy has been turned on its head. Under the pretext of following the democratic will, Chinese authorities have lurched from excessive caution to a hands-off approach.

Beijing is already experiencing a major outbreak. The rest of China is probably close behind and will face a massive wave in January. But because the government reversed its longstanding policy without a roadmap to reopening, undervaccinated elderly citizens have not been given enough time to get a booster shot. The result is likely to be more than a million deaths over the next few months– hundreds of thousands of them preventable.…  Seguir leyendo »