English translation of commentary published in Guangdong on July 6 by the Official WeChat account of 澳門國青會 悅匯文化傳播有限公司   

Original version can be found here

When President Xi Jinping recently met in Hong Kong with Ho Iat Seng, Chief Executive of the Macau Special Administrative Region, who was participating in the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the Motherland, he stressed that “the Central Government fully acknowledges Ho’s work and of the Government of the Special Administrative Region.” The President added: “I hope that SAR authorities will continue to make progress while maintaining stability, will continue to prevent and control the epidemic, effectively alleviate people’s difficulties, to strive to promote economic recovery, to firmly promote the development and proper diversification of the economy, and to commit to every effort to maintain social stability.”

For a great country, security is the most important thing. In the words of the leader, “progress while maintaining stability” is the starting point of all the work; “to make every effort to maintain social stability” has a deep meaning and is the basis of all work. These words are very important in the current critical period of China’s development, when it is necessary to prevent and neutralize major risks.

The relation between insisting on the pandemic control work and economic and social development, is like the relation between the ‘citywide static management (general lockdown)’ and the dynamic precise pandemic prevention approach. It’s not the choice between short-period of pain and long-period of pain, and it’s not as simple as the binary “either this or that” equation. 

The current epidemic outbreak in Macau has been going on for over half a month. Over time, the number of positive cases has increased daily, and the overall tally since the beginning of this outbreak exceeds 1,000 cases. Some people already feel “pandemic fatigue” and are slowly losing patience and beginning to show anxiety. There are many voices that believe that the MSAR Government should have implemented ‘citywide static management (general lockdown) at the beginning of the current epidemic outbreak, and should now do so resolutely.

Some megacities and large cities in China that proved defenceless in the face of the Omicron variant had no option but to implement “general lockdown management (citywide static management)”. Is “general lockdown management” or not a magic weapon for achieving “Dynamic Zero-COVID”? In addition to the implementation of “general lockdown management”, is there a better solution or not to face the impact of the epidemic? These issues have recently given rise to a comprehensive approach not only in Macau but also on the Internet throughout the country.

In May this year, the State Council’s joint prevention and control mechanism held a press conference, during which the head of the expert group of the epidemic response and disposal leading group of the National Health Commission, Liang Wannian, highlighted that China’s Dynamic Zero-COVID approach does not mean management that implies total suspension. On the contrary, one of the objectives of the Dynamic Zero-COVID approach is to avoid “citywide static management (general lockdown)” as much as possible. It is necessary to avoid not only inaction and omission, but also to avoid acting randomly and arbitrarily.

His words sent a strong signal: in relation to pandemic prevention and control, the country is not only publicizing the policies, but has started to pay attention to the specific problems that have arisen at the implementation level in various places.

As for “general lockdown management (citywide static management)”, the case of Shenzhen is considered a positive example by some people who believe the effect was remarkable. Let’s look at the following data: in the first quarter of this year, the national GDP growth rate was 4.8%, while Shenzhen was only 2%. Regarding the price paid by Shenzhen for the implementation of “citywide static management (general lockdown)”, only the people of Shenzhen have the right to speak out.

In this regard, Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, published an article and gave his own opinions based on his concrete situation in Beijing.

Hu Xijin referred to his personal experience in his article: after doing the nucleic acid test, the pop-up window was lifted and he regained the freedom to access public places. Hu fully recognized the efforts and efficiency of accurate prevention and control in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, and stressed that insisting on “Dynamic Zero-COVID” is necessary to ensure that the impact of this policy on the economy is manageable. One should not implement “shock therapy” on a large scale as soon as one or two positive cases arise, bringing economic life to a halt and causing a chaotic situation as a result. Hu was straightforward in stating that: this is not “Dynamic Zero-COVID” approach and it goes against the basic tenets of public health.

His point of view coincides with that of Liang Wannian, which also represents the country’s principle in relation to the “zero dynamics” policy.

Hu Xijin explained the reasons why people began to have many doubts about the “Dynamic Zeo-COVID” policy: first, Omicron is highly contagious and difficult to prevent; second, some places use “citywide static management (general lockdown)” as if it were a magic weapon, and see extreme prevention and control as “politically correct” without worrying about economic standstill. This approach seriously violates the Central Government’s basic prevention and control policy of achieving the greatest effect at the lowest cost, and has undermined public confidence. “Citywide static management (general lockdown)” has the best prevention and control effect and is the safest, but its impact on the economy and people’s lives is too massive. The implementation of too many general lockdowns could make everyone lose trust.

Hu Xijin’s remarks echo a view based on Beijing’s experience in pandemic prevention and control.

Since March 2022, the Omicron variant with reproductive rate of 9.5 has spread to many parts of China, and cities have initiated strict control measures. According to partial statistics, more than 60 cities or regions in the country have issued containment management notices. Among them, Shanghai, which “closed” the longest, for a total of 63 days; Changchun and Jilin cities in Jilin Province ranked second, and the lockdown time was 49 days and 39 days, respectively.

Currently, various locations adopt similar measures for the prevention and control of Omicron; they delimit isolation zones, control zones, prevention zones, determine localized confinements, and mass nucleic acid tests are carried out regularly. They resolutely implement the “Dynamic Zero-COVID” policy and adjust measures according to the appearance of newly infected people in the community.

It is important to mention that the management of confinement in first-tier cities and super first tier tends to intensify gradually with the evolution of the epidemic, while the confinement management in the provincial cities tends to be implemented in a single step.

For example, cinemas in most areas of Beijing have been temporarily closed by April 28,; on May 1, the city began to be ban dining in services; on May 5,  the work from home measure was implemented in many areas; on May 12, taxi operations between Chaoyang, Fangshan and Shunyi were suspended. After a month of strict control, the number of new cases started gradually decreasing and control measures were gradually relaxed.

The current prevention and control measures in Macau are similar to those in Beijing.

On March 15, Mengyin District of Linyi City of Shandong Province released a notice on the implementation of the “confinement management” measure , following two confirmed local cases. The notice said: “All residents of the District are prohibited from unnecessary movement; the confinement measure is applicable to all neighbourhoods; The entry of other people and vehicles is prohibited; If there is a need to travel for a medical consultation or purchase of basic necessities, it is up to the staff of the neighbourhoods to manage and provide services”.

For a modern city with a high degree of internationalization, how much influence does “citywide static management (general lockdown)” have on people’s lives? 

As is well known, chaotic situations arose this year at the beginning of the COVID19 outbreak in Shanghai. Regarding Dandong City of Liaoning Province, it is openly noteworthy that the lives of residents were severely affected during the two-month lockdown. 

Since April 24, Dandong City has rigorously implemented “general lockdown management” for two months. Currently, despite the aforementioned measure having been lifted, since the origin of the outbreak is still unknown, occasional cases have arisen.

Dandong City, located southwest of Liaoning Province and separated to the west by North Korea’s Xinyizhou City by a river, is an important border and port city of Liaoning Province. This small border town, like Dongxing City of Guangxi Province and Ruili City of Yunnan Province, suffered from the impact of the epidemic, and as a result of such prolonged “lockdown”, problems arose, namely skyrocketing food prices, the difficulty of access to medical consultations and the hurdles faced by small and medium-sized companies in maintaining their activities.

The two-month suspension of work and production activities in Dandong City had a major impact on the income of its residents in general. As a result of the suspension of work activities, many residents had no income or even lost their jobs, and they are under great pressure as they have to continue to pay car and home loans.

During the “lockdown management”, citizens mainly bought packets of vegetables to satisfy their hunger. The price of products has been high, and during the confinement, citizens were very concerned about the difficulty of accessing medical consultations. The situation of small and medium-sized companies is very difficult because they have a weak capacity to face risks.

Any decision can have far-reaching impacts. “Citywide static management (general lockdown)” does not only last 3.5, 8 or 10 days, and since, in addition to the impact of the epidemic, there are many other uncontrollable factors, the “citywide static management (general lockdown)” strategy can directly generate uncertainty, instability and major risks to economic development and the people’s livelihood. Considering the cases abovementioned, and looking at Macau, we ask, is Macau really prepared to face all these uncontrollable risks of uncertainty and instability?

Ensuring the free movement of goods and people is a basic premise of economic development. Even if restrictions cannot be avoided, everything must be done to not damage the foundations of the economy, otherwise the cost will be too high and the effects will be unsustainable. As long as the pandemic situation is mitigated, the epidemic prevention and control strategies must be adjusted in a timely manner, otherwise, even if it determinedly admits the granting of financial support, as is the case in Macau, there is no place for people to spend the money under a “citywide static management (general lockdown)”. 

If the “lockdown management” is implemented too arbitrarily, and if restrictions on circulation are imposed as an inherent measure of epidemic prevention and control, it is easy to become subject to a state of “path dependence”, and the shockwaves for the local economy will not be limited to the short-term. 

Carrying out a nucleic acid test – a fundamental measure to achieve early detection, diagnosis, treatment and isolation – plays an important role in the prevention and control of Covid-19 in our country, and has evident positive effects on the control of this outbreak in Macau. Looking at the whole country, under the “Dynamic Zero-COVID” strategy, conducting mass nucleic acid tests with intervals of 48 or 72 hours or 7 days, becomes a strategy adopted in various provinces. In some places men and women are tested separately. 

Following the mass nucleic acid testing drives, the negative NAT certificate of a certain period becomes a “passport of movement” for entering public spaces and traveling on public transport. If someone does not perform the nucleic acid test in a timely manner, they will be sent an alert or the health code will be changed in color, and will only change to green when the test result is negative.

This measure is a good example for Macau. It could be one of the regular epidemic prevention and control measures to be adopted by the Macau authorities, after reaching “Dynamic Zero” in this outbreak.

In order to effectively implement the Dynamic Zero-COVID” policy, it is essential not only to persist in the “zero” goal, but also to scientifically manage the process of epidemic prevention and control, in order to increase the citizens acknowledgement and support for the national epidemic prevention strategy. 

To avoid citizens’ dissatisfaction and confusion, we must not adopt arbitrary, inflexible and unscientific measures. This way we can allow the smooth implementation of “Dynamic Zero-COVID” in all regions.

We must speed up conducting nucleic acid tests for the early detection of positive cases and the subsequent isolation. Notwithstanding the “Dynamic Zero-COVID” policy, it is possible to find low-cost solutions. Despite what happened months ago in Shanghai (proliferation of cases), what we learned should not be “it is safer to take indiscriminate measures”.

Under the “One Country Two Systems” policy, Macau people administer Macau with a high degree of autonomy.  

The “citywide static management (general lockdown)” strategy, which has generated controversy, has yet to be implemented in Hong Kong and Taiwan and Macau should exercise caution. 

Currently, in the process of preventing and controlling the epidemic in Macau, we must have a more in-depth knowledge of the principle “one country, two systems”, respecting and supporting it. This does not mean that Macau cannot implement “citywide static management (general lockdown)”, but it should never make hasty decisions, because generally speaking, it will surely regret it. Specialized matters should be handed over to professionals. The Macau SAR Government is carrying out specialized assessments of the epidemic evolution, and as conveyed by the leaders, it is necessary to “progress while maintaining stability”.

At this juncture,Macau citizens, whether in the restricted area or not, should all keep their hopes, learn to let go, maintain self-discipline, calm down, accept reality, and go with the trend. No matter when they are conducting the citywide nucleic acid testing, doing antigen self-testing, working from home, or taking online classes, they must learn to turn uncertainty into certainty, and that can help to greatly reduce anxiety. In the days of consciously staying at home and complying with the anti-epidemic measures, people should learn to enjoy a slow life and a family union, and they will surely gain something from this.

By staying at home to fight the pandemic, they must learn how to live a slow life, and enjoy family life. All those fighting on the front lines, namely medical and nursing staff, police, media professionals, as well as volunteers and urban management personnel, have been working uninterruptedly for more than 15 days. Some of them work under very difficult conditions and face great physical and psychological challenges. They deserve our greatest recognition. In a way, we all have vulnerabilities. Faced with the great pressures of prolonged work, adjustments need to be made. They deserve the sound applause of deep gratitude from Macau citizens. It is a great encouragement for them. 

This epidemic outbreak is the most severe so far in Macau. It’s a big battle with the virus. The bigger the change is, the calmer we should be. Let us never blindly follow the words of others or cause trouble. Let’s keep the following words in mind: let’s believe in the country, believe in the Macau SAR Government, believe in ourselves, let’s continue to give Macau a little more time and patience.

This article includes information from Caixin, Xinhua News Agency and Macau SAR Government Information Bureau 

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