Social networks let off steam against containment in Shanghai

(Shanghai) A dog killed in the name of the fight against the epidemic, songs insulting the regime and scuffles with civil servants in protective gear: residents of Shanghai, locked up in their homes, vent their rage towards the draconian measures taken in China against the virus.

Posted yesterday at 6:30 a.m.

Vivian LIN with Matthew WALSH in Beijing
France Media Agency

Closure of borders, endless quarantines, massive screenings: committed to a “zero COVID-19” strategy, China has recorded relatively low mortality rates since the start of the pandemic.

But with the spread of the Omicron variant, Shanghai has just exceeded 20,000 daily COVID-19 cases. And the containment, initially announced as a gradual and localized measure, seems set to drag on, as the rest of the world learns to live with the virus.

Many of the 25 million residents seem tired of the ruling Communist Party’s triumphant rhetoric and are venting their fury on social media over food shortages, lockdowns and overzealous authorities.

Example of zeal: in a video verified by AFP, we can see an official in a full suit bludgeoning a corgi to death in the middle of the street.

Local media reported on Thursday that the neighborhood committee confessed to culling the animal for “fear of being infected”, admitting it was a “reckless” act.

The video made the rounds on social media, despite China’s strict internet censorship.

“This video keeps being shared on (messaging) WeChat,” a resident, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

“I think a lot of people will try to take action through petitions and talking to their neighborhood committee… so hopefully the anger and fear turn into something positive. »

Control your “desire for freedom”

In another dystopian-looking viral video, a drone roars through a housing complex at night, broadcasting a message that urges residents to “master (their) spirit’s desire for freedom.”

The video, which has not been verified, is presented as a reaction of the authorities of the district to offensive slogans against them launched by the inhabitants from their balconies.

Other viral videos, the location of which have been verified by AFP, show residents brawling with officials in protective gear. Others burst into a street through a barricade shouting “we want cheap vegetables”.

All of these images constitute a rare public expression of popular anger and a challenge to the government’s narrative of its control of the pandemic.

But according to Steve Tsang, director of the Chinese Institute at SOAS University in London, it is unlikely that the regime will change its strategy, as it is using its health “victory” to legitimize its authority over the country.

“Zero COVID-19 is not just Party policy, it is (President) Xi Jinping’s policy,” he said.

“As such, it can only be infallible and cannot be abandoned, at least not before Xi realizes that it is damaging his hold on power. »

Official figures show that the vast majority of the more than 100,000 cases recorded in Shanghai in recent weeks are asymptomatic.

Yet tens of thousands of beds have been set up in quarantine centers to isolate infected people.

Authorities only relaxed their rule of separating positive children from their uninjured parents after videos emerged showing rooms full of isolated toddlers. These images had aroused general indignation.

For experts, what is happening in Shanghai and the reactions on social media highlight the puzzle at the heart of central government policy.

“As for balancing the need to protect health with the need to protect socio-economic stability, I’m not sure that’s the right approach,” said Yanzhong Huang, health issues specialist at the Council. on Foreign Relations in the United States.

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