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China's COVID Coverup Is The Perfect Script For One-Party Rule

That it fools nobody is essential to the plot. That people are dying turns it into tragedy.

 Photo of a nurse treats patients infected with COVID-19 at a hospital in Fuyang City, China, on Jan. 4, 2023.

A nurse treats patients infected with COVID-19 in Fuyang City, China, on Jan. 4, 2023.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

Rarely has the gap between official information and reality been so wide. Every night at 8 p.m., China's newscast opens with a long montage devoted to the daily activities of the country's leaders, by order of importance: Xi Jinping at an economic meeting, Xi Jinping publishing a new book ... Then, after 20 minutes or so, some images about COVID, just in passing, and mainly to highlight that the Party line is the right one.

Among the Chinese population, it is exactly the opposite. COVID dominates conversations: the race for drugs, saturated hospitals with beds set up outside, endless waits at crematoriums working non-stop. And death, with the number of pandemic casualties unknown since the government has changed the definition of what constitutes a COVID victim.


On social media, we learn of the death of an old opera singer, a retired university professor, or an aging artist. Without ever mentioning COVID as the cause — the post would be censored. But no one is fooled.

Economic recovery v. saving lives 

The onslaught of the pandemic has ravaged major Chinese cities since the brutal policy change last month. After a three-year quest for “Zero COVID," the priority now is no longer coronavirus, but instead kickstarting the stalled economic recovery.

It is impossible to know the extent of contaminations. Firstly, because China hardly tests anyone anymore: test centers have been dismantled, now useless under the new laissez-faire deal. The authorities simply announced that a new peak had been reached in Beijing.

And secondly, because China does not provide complete information to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has openly complained — a rare criticism of Beijing.

A Pfizer paradox

Finally, China is facing a new challenge: the Chinese New Year, next week, with hundreds of millions of people joining their families and spreading the virus in rural or more remote areas – regions in which the health system is even more fragile than in cities.

Beijing is going after its critics abroad.

In an effort to save face, Beijing is going after its critics abroad, starting with countries that impose checks on arrival of flights from China. "Unacceptable," says Beijing.

China scrapped visa access this week for South Korean and Japanese nationals — two countries where passengers traveling from China get tested on arrival. This is even more surprising since China still requires a PCR test to be able to enter its territory.

But this over-reaction is primarily intended to make the outside world a scapegoat. Beijing has also multiplied warnings against the new American variant XBB 1.5, wondering why Europe does not control passengers from the U.S. The answer is obviously linked to the vaccine.

Speaking of which, the initiative from Citic, a Hong-Kong subsidiary of a Chinese state bank, boggles the mind: It promises a dose of the Pfizer vaccine to any customer who opens an account with a deposit of 500,000 euros. And yet, the Pfizer vaccine is not available in mainland China — primarily because it is American!

Contradictions have never bothered China, where the Party is always right.

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