What the Shanghai lockdown tells us of China's future

There is an ongoing competition within the Chinese leadership between those who believe in strong centralised authority and those who prefer more decentralised governance.

Men in protective gear in the deserted Nanjing Street shopping and tourist area in Shanghai, on April 25, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
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CHICAGO - After signalling that it was moving to a more nuanced Covid-19 policy, Shanghai - a city of 26 million - was pressured by the central government to lock down in late March, and has only just started to ease restrictions after almost one month. The official reason for this drastic policy shift is that citywide testing had revealed high infection rates. Yet one is left wondering why the authorities did not opt for a less costly alternative to a complete lockdown.

After all, Omicron, which now accounts for almost all new cases globally, has only mild effects on vaccinated people. And while China's elderly population does have a surprisingly low vaccination rate (around 60 per cent), immunising this cohort is well within the country's messaging and mobilisation capabilities.

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