Nearly three years of Covid-19 in the world and most Western nations have moved on. Except, it seems, for our Eastern friends in China.

China’s latest rules in the Shanghai Municipality are more suffocating than any Western restrictions, being criticised as downright tyrannical. 

Zero Tolerance Backfires

The BBC reported on May 11 that Shanghai is moving into the ‘tightest restrictions yet’. Commercial food deliveries are prohibited. Hospital access must be pre-approved. The government’s quarantine facilities not only include Covid patients but any neighbours and people close to them. China wishes to reach a ‘societal zero’ — a complete eradication of the virus outside quarantine facilities.

The zero-Covid approach has become a costly obsession. They’ve sacrificed their export growth, which has reached its lowest in two years.  Then in early May, Apple workers protested, crashing through barriers and getting into altercations with guards who tried to force them inside. 

Tesla’s Shanghai factory, nicknamed the ‘Giga-factory’, has had to stop production due to supply issues. In March, they closed owing to strict lockdown rules, eventually introducing a ‘closed-loop’ system. Within this loop, workers must live at their workplace. This system was not a product of Tesla, but a recommendation from Shanghai authorities. Bloomberg reported that workers are given the equivalent of $63 a day, including meals and a mattress. However, the exact amount varies between work positions.

The Importance of Economics

JSHU CSSE’s Covid-19 data suggests a steady climb in cases. These snowball around the end of March and the beginning of April, peaking on April 29 with 5,489 cases in a single day. But just as quickly as they go up, they go back down. May shows impressive results. There were only 174 domestic cases — including just 30 in Shanghai — on May 23.

So why the continuing aggressive restrictions at the cost of personal liberty? Arguably economics. Shanghai’s position as a tourist spot and commercial capital of China makes it an important asset to protect. Combining its imports and exports, it has a worth of $1,266.8 billion. Taking up a measly 0.6 per cent of the country’s landmass, Shanghai generates 25 per cent of the imports and exports revenue and 12.5 per cent of the total revenue of China. The GDP for Shanghai in 2018 was a staggering $1.5 trillion. Along with a geographical advantage for agriculture and its automobile manufacturing, amongst other things, this cements Shanghai as an invaluable money-maker for the CCP. With safety in mind, money clearly matters. The Tesla workers’ less than ideal living arrangements support the view that safety and economics, in this case, go hand-in-hand.

The work must go on

Health and well-being may be at stake. To date, that justification has sufficed for the authorities to impose their draconian measures. But that’s not all that is at stake. There is productivity to be thought of. Western competition cannot be seen to overtake. The Chinese government has treated the uptick in cases as a flat wheel in a Grand Prix — something that’s making them lag behind competitors. And that is certainly one reason why work has continued regardless.

With China’s history of worker exploitation, the individual can take second place to the well-being of the collective. Attaining a higher GDP and staying competitive amongst the world’s superpowers takes sacrifice; the civil liberties of Shanghai’s workers and citizens. By enforcing a ‘closed-loop’ system, China’s labour exploitation issues will only swell further.

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