70 Chinese Cities Locked Down, 300-M Affected Before Xi's 3rd Term
More than 70 Chinese cities have been placed under full or partial COVID lockdowns since late August, impacting more than 300 million people, as local authorities rush to stamp out infections at all costs in the final countdown to leader Xi Jinping's expected third term, Nectar Gan reported for CNN.
Photo Insert: 33 cities are currently under partial or full lockdowns. Experts say more cities are likely to be added in the coming weeks.
Since August 20, at least 74 cities with a combined population of 313 million have imposed lockdowns that cover entire cities, districts, or multiple neighborhoods, according to CNN's calculations.
They include 15 provincial capitals and Tianjin, a provincial-level municipality. Many of the restrictions are still in place.
According to Chinese financial magazine Caixin, 33 cities are currently under partial or full lockdowns. Experts say more cities are likely to be added in the coming weeks. But China insists that zero-COVID is saving lives.
Health officials have cited the relatively low elderly vaccination rate and inadequate rural health care as hurdles to relaxing restrictions, but Chinese public health experts say political factors have played an outsized role, too.
Xi, a staunch advocate for the country's zero-COVID strategy, is poised to be anointed as the country's top leader for another five years at the 20th Party Congress scheduled to start on October 16.
The choreographed affair is meant to be a moment of celebration and vindication of the achievements of the Party — and of Xi personally over his decade in power.
"The Party wants to make sure nothing untoward, such as a major outbreak, could potentially threaten social stability, shadow the leadership transition process — and not to mention tarnish Xi's personal leadership credibility," said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
The Communist Party has used the zero-COVID strategy to argue that its political model is superior to Western democracies, and Xi has thrown his weight behind the policy.
Earlier this year, a two-month lockdown in Shanghai sparked public backlash and crippled the economy, leading some to question the zero-tolerance policy. In response, Xi issued a strong warning against critics, vowing to "resolutely fight against any words and acts that distort, doubt or deny" his zero-COVID policy.
For local officials, doubling down on zero-COVID is a way to toe the Party line, demonstrate their loyalty to Xi, and prevent any outbreak that could jeopardize their career weeks before the Party congress.