China’s entrepreneur class is grappling with the worst economic slump in decades as the government’s zero Covid policy has shut down cities and kept would-be customers at home. Yet they can’t seem to agree on how loudly they should complain — or even whether they should at all.
A tech entrepreneur wrote in a big group chat in May that many members were too critical. “What people here do every day is criticizing the government and the system,” she wrote. “I can’t see any entrepreneurship in this.”
A top venture capitalist told his nearly nine million social media followers that as much as everyone had suffered from the pandemic, they should try to stay away from negative news and information.
zero Covid policy, which has put hundreds of millions of people under some kind of lockdowns in the past few months, costing jobs and revenues. He’s saying what many others are whispering in private but fear to say in public.
“The questions we should ask ourselves are,” he wrote in an article that was censored within an hour of posting but shared widely in other formats, “what caused such widespread negative sentiment across the society? Who should be responsible for this? And how can we change it?”
He said the lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities made it clear that wealth and social status meant little to a government determined to pursue its zero Covid policy. “We’re all nobodies who could be sent to the quarantine camps, and our homes could be broken into,” he wrote. “If we still choose to adapt to and put up with this, all of us will face the same destiny: trapped.”
staying out of politics is no longer an option for China’s business leaders. But some of his peers are reluctant, given the potential penalties.
steered away from the market economy and cracked down on some industries. It demonized entrepreneurs and went after some of the most prominent of them. Then when the mild, albeit contagious, Omicron variant of the coronavirus emerged in China this year, the government meddled with free enterprise as it hadn’t in decades.
The lockdowns and restrictions have done so much damage to the economy that Premier Li Keqiang summoned about 100,000 cadres to an emergency meeting in late May. He called the situation “severe” and “urgent,” citing sharp drops in employment, industrial production, electricity consumption and freight traffic.
Many business leaders believe that it will be hard to reverse the damage if the government doesn’t stop the zero Covid policy. Yet they feel that there’s nothing they can do to make Beijing change course.
The chairman of a big internet company told me that with all the pandemic restrictions, he and others were operating as if dancing with shackles on while expecting the sword of a lockdown to strike at any moment. With a big public company to run, he said, it would be too risky to be vocal. He hoped the economists could be more outspoken.
The chairman of a publicly listed conglomerate with many consumer-facing businesses said he had to shut down a few of his companies and let people go as revenues dropped off a cliff. He’s not a Christian, he said, but he has been praying to God every day to help him get through this tough period.
articles that compared the pros and cons of different pandemic policies. Then, in mid-May, his social media Weibo account was suspended.
Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, largely disappeared from public view after he criticized banking regulators in late 2019. The regulators quashed the initial public offering of Ant Group, the tech and financial company controlled by Mr. Ma, and fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion last year.
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate developer, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of committing graft, taking bribes, misusing public funds and abusing his power. His real crime, his supporters say, was criticizing Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020.
Mr. Zhou, 49, is known as a maverick in Chinese business circles. He founded his first business in stereo systems with his brother in the mid-1990s when he was still in college. In 2010, he started Yongche, one of the first ride-hailing companies.
Unlike most Chinese bosses, he didn’t demand that his employees work overtime, and he didn’t like liquor-filled business meals. He turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and refused to participate in subsidy wars because doing so didn’t make economic sense. He ended up losing out to his more aggressive competitor Didi.
He later wrote a best seller about his failure and became a partner at a venture capital firm in Beijing. In April, he was named chairman of the ride-sharing company Caocao, a subsidiary of auto manufacturing giant Geely Auto Group.
A Chinese citizen with his family in Canada, Mr. Zhou said in an interview that in the past many wealthy Chinese people like him would move their families and some of their assets abroad but work in China because there were more opportunities.
Now, some of the top talent are trying to move their businesses out of the country, too. It doesn’t bode well for China’s future, he said.
“Entrepreneurs have good survivor’s instinct,” he said. “Now they’re forced to look beyond China.” He coined a term — “passive globalization” — based on his discussions with other entrepreneurs. “Many of us are starting to take such actions,” he said.
The prospect depressed him. China used to be the best market in the world: big, vibrant, full of ambitious entrepreneurs and hungry workers, he said, but the senseless and destructive zero Covid policy and the business crackdowns have forced many of them to think twice.
“Even if your company is a so-called giant, we’re all nobodies in front of the bigger force,” he said. “A whiff of wind could crush us.”
All the business leaders I spoke to said they were reluctant to make long-term investment in China and fearful that they and their companies could become the next victim of the government’s iron fist. They’re focusing on their international operations if they have them or seeking opportunities abroad.
Mr. Zhou left for Vancouver, British Columbia, in a hurry in late April when Beijing was locking down many neighborhoods. Then he wrote the article, urging his peers to try to speak up and change their powerless status.
He said he understood the fear and the pressure they faced. “Honestly speaking, I’m scared, too.” But he would probably regret it more if he did nothing. “Our country can’t go on like this,” he said. “We can’t allow it to deteriorate like this.”
In recent years, a few of Mr. Zhou’s articles and social media accounts have been deleted. His outspokenness has caused uneasiness among his friends, he said. Some have told him to shut up because it didn’t change anything and was creating unnecessary risks for himself, his family, his companies and the stakeholders in his businesses.
But Mr. Zhou can’t help himself. He’s worried that China could become more like it was under Mao: impoverished and repressive. His generation of entrepreneurs owes much of their success to China’s reform and opening up policies, he said. They have the responsibilities to initiate change instead of waiting for a free ride.
Maybe they can start by speaking up, even if just a little bit.
“Any change starts with disagreement and disobedience,” he said.
The police had warned Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer, not to go to Shanghai to visit the mother of a dissident. He went to the airport anyway.
His phone’s health code app — a digital pass indicating possible exposure to the coronavirus — was green, which meant he could travel. His home city, Changsha, had no Covid-19 cases, and he had not left in weeks.
Then his app turned red, flagging him as high risk. Airport security tried to put him in quarantine, but he resisted. Mr. Xie accused the authorities of meddling with his health code to bar him from traveling.
model of secure order, in contrast to the “chaos of the West.” In the two years since officials isolated the city of Wuhan in the first lockdown of the pandemic, the Chinese government has honed its powers to track and corral people, backed by upgraded technology, armies of neighborhood workers and broad public support.
zero Covid” approach has helped keep infections low, while the death toll continues to grow in the United States and elsewhere. But Chinese officials have at times been severe, isolating young children from their parents or jailing people deemed to have broken containment rules.
City officials did not respond to questions about assertions by Mr. Xie, the lawyer. While it is hard to know what goes on in individual cases, the government itself has signaled it wants to use these technologies in other ways.
Officials have used pandemic health monitoring systems to flush out fugitives. Some fugitives have been tracked down by their health codes. Others who avoided the apps have found life so difficult that they have surrendered.
health code. Residents sign up for the system by submitting their personal information in one of a range of apps. The health code is essentially required, because without it, people cannot enter buildings, restaurants or even parks. Before the pandemic, China already had a vast ability to track people using location data from cellphones; now, that monitoring is far more expansive.
expanded their definition of close contact to include people whose cellphone signals were recorded within as much as half a mile of an infected person.
The party’s experiment in using data to control the flow of people has helped keep Covid at bay. Now these same tools potentially give officials greater power to manage other challenges.
as a model for how China can use technology to address social problems.
Since 2020, Hangzhou has also used video cameras on streets to check whether residents are wearing masks. One district monitored home power consumption to check whether residents were sticking to quarantine orders. The central city of Luoyang installed sensors on the doors of residents quarantining at home, in order to notify officials if they were opened.
crashed twice in two weeks,disrupting the lives of residents who had to update their apps each day with proof that they had taken Covid tests.
By focusing on technology and surveillance, Chinese officials may be neglecting other ways of protecting lives, such as expanding participation in public health programs, wrote Chen Yun, a scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai, in a recent assessment of China’s response to Covid.
state media — roughly one in every 250 adults. Under the grid management system, cities, villages and towns are divided into sections, sometimes of just a few blocks, which are then assigned to individual workers.
During normal times, their duties included pulling weeds, mediating disputes and keeping an eye on potential troublemakers.
Amid the pandemic, those duties mushroomed.
take out their trash.
They also were given powerful new tools.
The central government has directed the police, as well as internet and telephone companies, to share information about residents’ travel history with community workers so that the workers can decide whether residents are considered high-risk.
a woman who was eight months pregnant because her Covid test result had expired hours earlier. She lost the baby, an episode that inspired widespread public fury. But some blamed the heavy burden placed upon low-level workers to stamp out infections.
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know
Card 1 of 4
“In their view, it’s always preferable to go too far than be too soft-handed, but that’s the pressure created by the environment nowadays,” Li Naitang, a retired worker in Xi’an, said of local officials.
Still, for defenders of China’s stringent measures, the results are undeniable. The country has recorded only 3.3 coronavirus deaths per million residents, compared to about 2,600 per million in the United States. In mid-January, Xi’an officials announced zero new infections; this past week, the lockdown was lifted entirely.
‘You’ll never be lost’
The government’s success in limiting infections means its strategy has earned something that has proved elusive in many other countries: widespread support.
published an analysis of each province’s criteria for a health code to turn from green to yellow. It concluded that, for most provinces, the answer was unclear.
“You never know if your planned itinerary will be canceled, or if your travel plans can be realized,” the article said.
local news report. Eighteen summonses were successfully delivered as a result.
Local governments across China have sought to assure people that their health code data will not be abused. The central government has also issued regulations promising data privacy. But many Chinese people assume that the authorities can acquire whatever information they want, no matter the rules.
Zan Aizong, a former journalist in Hangzhou, says the expansion of surveillance could make it even easier for the authorities to break up dissenters’ activities. He has refused to use the health code, but it means moving around is difficult, and he finds it hard to explain his reasoning to workers at checkpoints.
“I can’t tell them the truth — that I’m resisting the health code over surveillance,” he said, “because if I mentioned resistance, they’d think that was ridiculous.”
Joy Dong, Liu Yi and Li You contributed reporting and research.
LONDON — As the still-mysterious Omicron variant reached American shores, the World Health Organization on Wednesday scolded wealthy countries that imposed travel bans and dismissed those that poured resources into vaccine booster campaigns when billions in poor countries had yet to receive their first shots.
The comments by W.H.O. officials reopened fraught questions of equity in how the world has handled the coronavirus pandemic since a stark divide over the availability of vaccines emerged between rich and poor countries earlier this year.
But amid fears of a new wave of Covid-19, that seemed unlikely to sway leaders in Europe, Asia, and the United States, which reported its first confirmed Omicron case, in California, on Wednesday. They are scrambling to shield their populations from the variant — about which much remains unknown — by topping up their protection and tightening restrictions on incoming travel.
Travelers reacted with confusion and dismay to news that the United States plans to toughen testing requirements and the screening of inbound passengers. That decision came after Japan, Israel, and Morocco barred foreign travelers and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks.
revealed to the world — and Dr. Tedros warned that the number would rise.
The W.H.O. also voiced skepticism about ambitious booster plans that it claimed come at the expense of first-time vaccinations in less wealthy nations. Britain this week announced a massive new campaign to deliver booster shots to all adults by the end of January. Other European countries and the Biden administration are also pushing these shots as a first line of defense against the variant, buying time for scientists to unravel its genomic code.
Japan joined Israel and Morocco in barring all foreign travelers, and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks. The C.D.C plans to increase testing and screening of international fliers to the U.S.
A patchwork of regulations. As the new Omicron variant spread around the world, two KLM flights from South Africa became emblematic of the scattershot and lax global approach to coronavirus containment. Of the more than 60 people who tested positive for the virus, at least 14 had Omicron.
A new type of treatment. An expert panel voted to recommend that the F.D.A. authorize a Covid pill from Merck for high-risk adults, the first in a new class of antiviral drugs that could work against a wide range of variants, including Omicron. The pill could be authorized within days, and available by year’s end.
Vaccine hesitancy in Africa. The detection of the Omicron variant in Africa signals the next stage of the battle against Covid-19: getting more people inoculated in poorer nations. But though vaccine supplies are becoming sufficient, the new hurdle is overcoming local skepticism or outright hostility.
The borderless nature of the virus, Mr. Guterres said, means that “travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective.”
Although the United States is not weighing the kind of blanket travel ban on foreign visitors imposed by Japan, the restrictions being weighed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States are stirring widespread concern. The agency is considering requiring travelers to provide a negative result from a test taken within 24 hours before departure, a spokesman said on Tuesday night.
Though the C.D.C. has yet to officially announce the changes, the prospect sent travelers searching for updates, booking pre-emptive tests where they could, and scouring airline websites for reservation changes, as the pandemic threatened to upend another December travel season.
Carlos Valencia, a dual Spanish-American citizen whose Seville-based company operates a study abroad program for American students, had planned to return to the United States in January. But he said that he would put the trip on hold until “there is at least some clarity about whether the new rules make a trip feasible.”
Whatever shape the restrictions take, he said, they are “way overdone — especially when you consider how lax the U.S.A. has been with getting people to wear face masks and its own health safety measures.”
Emanuela Giorgetti, a teacher in northern Italy, was hoping to join her fiancé, whom she has not seen for almost two years, for Christmas in Chicago. “When I heard the news,” she said, “I thought, ‘Here we go again.’”
Given the potential threat posed by Omicron, she said she understood the impulse to tighten the rules. But it still seemed unfair.
“We have more vaccinated people in Italy than in the U.S., we wear masks indoors and try to go by the rules,” Ms. Giorgetti said.
Reporting was contributed by Nick Cumming-Bruce, Rick Gladstone, Raphael Minder, Gaia Pianigiani, Michael D. Shear and John Yoon.
The world reacted with alarm on Friday to the highly mutated new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa, as the United States, the European Union and nations across the globe imposed new travel restrictions, financial markets swooned and visions of finally emerging from the pandemic started to dim.
Just two days after the world learned of the variant, the World Health Organization officially labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category — the first since the Delta variant, which emerged a year ago. The designation means that the variant has mutations that might make it more contagious or more virulent, or make vaccines and other preventive measures less effective — though none of those effects has yet been established.
suffered terribly when Covid first hit Europe early last year.
On Friday, Israel, Singapore, several European nations individually, and then the European Union as a whole, the United States and Canada followed the lead set by Britain on Thursday night, temporarily barring foreign travelers who have recently been in South Africa or any of several neighboring countries. As with past travel bans, countries are allowing their own citizens and permanent residents to return home if they test negative for the virus, with some requiring additional testing and quarantine after arrival.
fights over vaccines and social restrictions have grown increasingly harsh.
world’s highest case rates for their populations are all European — several of them about six times as high as the U.S. rate.
South Africa, whose last coronavirus wave peaked in July, has recently reported case rates far below the worldwide average. But last week the rate more than doubled from the week before.
Reporting was contributed by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Carl Zimmer, Lynsey Chutel and Nick Cumming-Bruce.
COPACENI, Romania — As a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic crashed over Eastern Europe last month, devastating unvaccinated populations, an Orthodox Church bishop in southern Romania offered solace to his flock: “Don’t be fooled by what you see on TV — don’t be scared of Covid.”
Most important, Bishop Ambrose of Giurgiu told worshipers in this small Romanian town on Oct. 14, “don’t rush to get vaccinated.”
The bishop is now under criminal investigation by the police for spreading dangerous disinformation, but his anti-vaccine clarion call, echoed by prominent politicians, influential voices on the internet and many others, helps explain why Romania has in recent weeks reported the world’s highest per capita death rate from Covid-19.
On Tuesday, nearly 600 Romanians died, the most during the pandemic. The country’s death rate relative to population is almost seven times as high as the United States’, and almost 17 times as high as Germany’s.
Europe’s second-lowest vaccination rate; around 44 percent of adults have had at least one dose, ahead of only Bulgaria, at 29 percent. Overall, the European Union stands at 81 percent, with several countries above 90 percent. Complicating matters, Romania has been without a government since last month, when a centrist coalition unraveled.
some form of a vaccine requirement. Here’s a closer look.
As she spoke, a 66-year-old Covid patient, Nicu Paul, gasped for breath on a bed nearby. His wife, Maria, also suffering severe pulmonary problems from Covid, lay in the next bed. Mr. Paul said he had worked for 40 years as an ambulance driver and never gotten sick — “God saved me,” he said — so he decided against vaccination because “there are so many rumors about the vaccine that I did not know what to believe.”
Romania began vaccinating its citizens last December and put the program under the military, the country’s most respected institution, according to opinion polls. The second most trusted institution, however, is the Orthodox church, which has sent mixed signals on vaccines, with Patriarch Daniel in Bucharest telling people to make up their own minds and listen to doctors, while many local clerics and some influential bishops denounced vaccines as the Devil’s work.
Colonel Ghorghita said he had been shocked and mystified by the reach of anti-vaccination sentiment. “They really believe that vaccines are not the proper way to stop Covid,” he said, adding that this was despite the fact that “more than 90 percent of deaths are unvaccinated people.” Old people, the most vulnerable demographic, have been the hardest to convince, he said, with only 25 percent of people over 80 vaccinated.
In central Bucharest, huge signs display photographs of gravely ill patients in hospitals as part of a campaign to jolt people back to reality. “They are suffocating. They beg. They regret,” reads a caption.
Dr. Streinu-Cercel said she was uneasy with trying to reach people by scaring them. “We should be talking about science, not fear,” she said, but “fear is the only thing that got the attention of the general population.”
Distrust of just about everyone and everything is so deep, she said, that some of her patients “are gasping for breath but tell me that Covid does not exist.”
“It is very difficult when so many people are denying all reality,” she added.
At a vaccination center at her hospital, only a trickle of people pass through most days, though vaccines are free and increasingly necessary following new rules requiring vaccination certificates to enter many public buildings.
One of those getting vaccinated was Norica Gheorghe, 82. She said she had held off for months on getting a shot but decided to go ahead this past week after seeing reports that nearly 600 had died in one day. “My hair stood on end when I saw this number, and I decided that I should get vaccinated,” she said.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Covid disinformation in Romania mostly followed themes that found traction in many other countries, according to Alina Bargaoanu, a Bucharest communications professor who tracks disinformation, with people spreading wild conspiracy theories under fake names on Facebook and other social media.
But as the pandemic dragged on, she added, this largely fake virtual phenomenon morphed into a political movement driven by real people like Diana Sosoaca, an elected member of Romania’s upper house of Parliament. Ms. Sosoaca led a protest in the north of the country that blocked the opening of a vaccination center, denouncing the pandemic as “the biggest lie of the century,” and organized anti-mask rallies in Bucharest. Videos of her antics have attracted millions of views.
Ms. Bargaoanu, the disinformation researcher, said she suspected a Russian hand in spreading alarm over vaccines, but conceded that many of the most popular anti-vaccination conspiracy theories originate in the United States, making them particularly hard to debunk because “Romania is a very pro-American country.”
Colonel Ghorghita has taken to social media to rebut the more outlandish falsehoods, and also met with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to ask them not to fan the flames of disinformation. “They don’t have a duty to recommend vaccination but they do have a duty not to recommend against it,” he said.
The Orthodox church is particularly important because of its strong influence in rural areas, where vaccination rates are half those in cities like Bucharest, where more than 80 percent of adults have received at least one shot.
In Copaceni, a rural county south of Bucharest, workers at a small clinic offering vaccines said they were appalled by Bishop Ambrose’s anti-vaccine tirades.
“I am fighting to get people vaccinated every day, and then he comes along and tells them not to bother,” said Balota Hajnalka, a doctor running the clinic.
Boryana Dzhambazova contributed reporting from Sofia, Bulgaria, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow.
The southwestern Chinese city of Ruili is small, remote and largely unknown internationally. It is also, when it comes to the coronavirus, perhaps the most tightly regulated place on earth.
In the past year, it has been locked down four times, with one shutdown lasting 26 days. Homes in an entire district have been evacuated indefinitely to create a “buffer zone” against cases from elsewhere. Schools have been closed for months, except for a few grades — but only if those students and their teachers do not leave campus.
Many residents, including 59-year-old Liu Bin, have gone months without income, in a city that relies heavily upon tourism and trade with neighboring Myanmar. Mr. Liu, who ran a customs brokerage before cross-border movement essentially stopped, estimated he had lost more than $150,000. He is tested on a near-daily basis. He borrows cigarette money from his son-in-law.
“Why do I have to be oppressed like this? My life is important too,” he said. “I’ve actively followed epidemic control measures. What else do we normal people have to do to meet the standards?”
remained the last country chasing full elimination, for the most part with success. It has recorded fewer than 5,000 virus-related deaths, and in parts of the country without confirmed cases, the outbreak can feel like a hazy memory.
But the residents of Ruili — a lush, subtropical city of about 270,000 people before the pandemic — are facing the extreme and harsh reality of living under a “Zero Covid” policy when even a single case is found.
live on campus. Classrooms have been converted to dorms. Since students are always around, they also have classes on weekends.
told state media he had taken 90 Covid tests over the last seven months. Another parent said that his one-year-old son had been tested 74 times.
Tens of thousands of residents have fled the city for elsewhere in China in the breaks between lockdowns; officials recently acknowledged that the population had dropped to about 200,000. To control the outflow, the authorities now require people to pay for up to 21 days of pre-departure quarantine.
In a sign of the desperation many residents are feeling, a former deputy mayor of Ruili last month wrote a blog post called “Ruili Needs the Motherland’s Care” — a stunning move in a country where officials almost never deviate from the government line.
“Every time the city is locked down is another instance of serious emotional and material loss,” wrote the official, Dai Rongli. “Each experience battling the virus is a new accumulation of grievances.”
according to state media. No cases have been traced to people leaving Ruili for elsewhere in China.
Even so, officials insist that there is little room for adjustment.
“If Ruili’s epidemic does not reach zero, there will be risk of outward transmission,” Ruili’s deputy mayor, Yang Mou, said at a news conference on Oct. 29.
Shanghai’s Disneyland spent hours waiting to be tested on Sunday night before they could leave the park. Parts of Beijing are locked down, and many incoming trains and flights have been canceled.
announced that all traffic lights would be turned red, to prevent unnecessary travel. (It later backtracked.)
Ruili is uniquely vulnerable to both the virus and the burdens of lockdown.
Nestled in the corner of Yunnan Province, it shares more than 100 miles of borders with Myanmar, attracting tourists and traders. In 2019, people passed through its border checkpoint nearly 17 million times, according to official statistics.
When China sealed up the country, trade and tourism all but collapsed. Yet Ruili’s borders remained porous, raising fears of imported cases. And the military coup in Myanmar this year has led some to seek refuge in Ruili, legally or illegally. Some residents have had to dodge stray bullets from the conflict across the border, according to Chinese media reports.
banned residents from livestreaming about the local jade industry to limit gem orders and the movement of delivery people.
told state media that “at the moment, we do not need” additional help. The day before, he had warned against “criminals” who he said would use “public opinion and false information to disrupt social order.”
have admonished people for protesting lockdown conditions.)
Earlier this year, Mr. Li and a group of fellow investors pooled together about $3 million for a jade market in Ruili, which they had hoped to open in May. Instead, the premises have sat empty, though they have continued to pay rent. He has heard nothing about government assistance.
Originally, his company employed about 50 people. Now? “We only dare to keep one person, to guard the door,” he said. “What can you do? We can’t pay them.”
The cost of daily living has shot up. A kilogram of bok choy used to cost less than 6 renminbi, or under $1, Mr. Li said; now the price has jumped to 8 or 10 renminbi.
“The ordinary people,” he sighed, “have no way to live.”
The trip began in Shanghai, where the couple, both former professors, joined a tour group of other retirees. They traveled through Gansu Province and Inner Mongolia, staying at a bed-and-breakfast and eating three times at the same lamb chop restaurant. Flying south to Xi’an, they dropped into a 1,300-year-old temple. Their fellow tour group members checked out an art museum, strolled through parks and visited friends.
Then, on Oct. 16, the day they had planned to visit the Terracotta Warriors, the couple tested positive for the coronavirus.
Since then, China has locked down a city of 4 million, as well as several smaller cities and parts of Beijing, to contain a fresh outbreak that has infected more than 240 people in at least 11 provinces and regions. The authorities have shuttered schools and tourist sites. Government websites have detailed every movement of the unlucky couple and their sprawling web of contacts, including what time they checked into hotels and on which floors of restaurants they sat.
The no-holds-barred response is emblematic of China’s “zero Covid” policy, which has served the country remarkably well: China has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The scale of the new outbreak, while tiny compared to many other countries, is large for China.
Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. “At a huge cost, though.”
at-times strident nationalism.
Other countries that adopted “zero Covid” policies were hailed as models of competent governance that prioritized saving lives over convenience and economic growth.
As the virus has dragged into its second year, and with the onset of the far more contagious Delta variant, countries are again reconsidering their strategies. Australia, which was home to the world’s longest lockdown, is scrapping quarantine requirements for vaccinated residents returning from overseas. New Zealand formally abandoned its quest for zero this month. Singapore is offering quarantine-free travel to vaccinated tourists from Germany, the United States, France and several other countries.
attacked viciously online as a lackey of foreigners. A former Chinese health minister called such a mindset reckless.
Zhang Jun, an urban studies scholar at the City University of Hong Kong.
In addition, though China has achieved a relatively high full inoculation rate, at 75 percent of its population, questions have emerged about the efficacy of its homegrown vaccines.
And, at least for now, the elimination strategy appears to enjoy public support. While residents in locked-down areas have complained about seemingly arbitrary or overly harsh restrictions on social media, travel is relatively unconstrained in areas without cases. Wealthy consumers have poured money into luxury goods and fancy cars since they’re not spendingon trips abroad.
reinstated them in September amid a spike in infections. (Still, the government is moving forward with travel lanes.)
But experts agree that the costs of expecting zero cases will hit eventually. China’s economic growth is slowing, and domestic travel during a weeklong holiday earlier this month fell below last year’s levels, as a cluster of new cases spooked tourists. Retail sales have proven fitful, recovering and ebbing with waves of the virus.
The country may also suffer diplomatically. Mr. Xi has not left China or received foreign visitors since early 2020, even as other world leaders prepare to gather in Rome for a Group of 20 summit and Glasgow for climate talks.
China’s hard-nosed approach is also trickling down to Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous territory and global financial hub. In trying to align their own Covid prevention policies with the mainland’s, Hong Kong’s leaders have introduced the world’s longest quarantine, ignoring escalating warnings from business leaders about an exodus of foreign firms.
said in a recent interview with Chinese media that once the country reached an 85 percent vaccination rate, “why shouldn’t we open up?”
Until then, those stranded by the lockdowns have been trying to make the best of their situations. State news outlets have reported that roughly 10,000 tourists are trapped in Ejin Banner, a region of Inner Mongolia, after the emergence of cases led to a lockdown. As consolation, the local tourism association has promised them free entry to three popular tourist attractions, redeemable within the next three years.
Postponing gives the workers who are responding to new requirements sufficient time to become fully vaccinated. And it gives companies more time to set up the logistics that accompany vaccination mandates, such as processes for tracking vaccination status and, soon, who has received a booster.
“Within a company, a C.E.O. can say: ‘Our company, our culture, our business. We need to be together, we need to be in the office, this is the date,’” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a senior health consultant at Mercer Consulting Group. “And then our friends in H.R. are like, ‘How are we going to do that?’”
For some organizations, negotiations with unions are also a factor.A spokeswoman for NPR, which has not set a date for returning to the office, said the public radio network was working “with key stakeholders, including our unions, to evaluate the best approaches to keeping our staff safe and maintaining our operations.”
With new logistics around vaccine mandates, continued uncertainty around variants, and increasingly vocal employee demands, some companies, including The New York Times and American Airlines, have opted out of setting return dates.
The agility of technology companies, alongside industries like consulting and media, is in many ways unique. CVS Health is still eyeing a fall return, albeit with a degree of flexibility worked in. And many employees never went home at all — with a good portion of workers at companies like General Motors, Ford Motor and Chevron having worked on-site throughout most of the pandemic.
Many companies that did send employees home remain eager to bring them back. The longer workers stay out of the office, the harder it may be to cajole their return. And real estate costs are difficult to justify if offices are left empty.
In finance, which traditionally puts a priority on in-person apprenticeship and hustling, the prominent firms have made being in the office a recruiting tool. Goldman Sachs brought back its employees in June and JPMorgan Chase in July. The rise of the Delta variant didn’t slow those plans down, but it did seemingly expedite measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Goldman said last month that it would require anyone who entered its U.S. offices, including clients, to be fully vaccinated.
The reason for the surge in Mongolia, Mr. Batbayar said, is that the country reopened too quickly, and many people believed they were protected after only one dose.
“I think you could say Mongolians celebrated too early,” he said. “My advice is the celebrations should start after the full vaccinations, so this is the lesson learned. There was too much confidence.”
Some health officials and scientists are less confident.
Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University in Australia, said that with all of the evidence, it would be reasonable to assume the Sinopharm vaccine had minimal effect on curbing transmission. A major risk with the Chinese inoculation is that vaccinated people may have few or no symptoms and still spread the virus to others, he said.
“I think that this complexity has been lost on most decision makers around the world.”
In Indonesia, where a new variant is spreading, more than 350 doctors and health care workers recently came down with Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac, according to the risk mitigation team of the Indonesian Medical Association. Across the country, 61 doctors died between February and June 7. Ten of them had taken the Chinese-made vaccine, the association said.
The numbers were enough to make Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s director of medical services, question the use of Sinovac. “It’s not a problem associated with Pfizer,” Mr. Mak said at a news conference on Friday. “This is actually a problem associated with the Sinovac vaccine.”
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were the first two countries to approve the Sinopharm shot, even before late-stage clinical trial data was released. Since then, there have been extensive reports of vaccinated people falling ill in both countries. In a statement, the Bahraini government’s media office said the kingdom’s vaccine rollout had been “efficient and successful to date.”
Still, last month officials from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they would offer a third booster shot. The choices: Pfizer or more Sinopharm.
Reporting was contributed by Khaliun Bayartsogt, Andrea Kannapell, Ben Hubbard, Asmaa al-Omar and Muktita Suhartono. Elsie Chen and Claire Fu contributed research.
KISUMU, Kenya — Before Kenya’s president and other leaders arrived in late May to mark a major public holiday, health officials in Kisumu on Lake Victoria saw disaster brewing. Coronavirus infections were spiking, hospital isolation units were filling up and the highly contagious Delta variant had been found in Kenya for the first time — in Kisumu County.
Dr. Boaz Otieno Nyunya, the county executive for health and sanitation, said he and other health specialists argued and pleaded for the politicians to hold a virtual celebration and skip the mass, in-person events that can supercharge an outbreak. Just weeks earlier, huge political rallies had helped fuel the catastrophic Covid-19 wave in India, where the Delta variant first emerged and became dominant.
Their objections were waved away, the health officials said. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, the former prime minister Raila Odinga and others descended on Kisumu, drawing large and mostly unmasked crowds who thronged the streets to watch their slow-moving motorcades through the city and gathered to hear them at marketplaces and parking lots.
turning away patients for lack of beds or oxygen, health officials say they fear a wave like the one that ripped through India in April and May could be looming over Kisumu.
“The India example is not lost to us,” Dr. Nyunya said.
Though data on infections and deaths is spotty, more than 23 percent of the people tested for the virus in Kisumu last week were positive — more than double the national rate. Kenya’s overall positivity rate is similar to that of the United States when the pandemic peaked there in January. But the Delta variant was still rare then, the American health system is far more robust than Kenya’s and the U.S. government was ramping up vaccination on a grand scale.
All of Africa is vulnerable, as the latest wave of the pandemic sweeps the continent, driven in part by more transmissible variants. Fewer than 1 percent of Africa’s people have been even partially vaccinated, by far the lowest rate for any continent.
“I think the greatest risk in Africa is to look at what happened in Italy earlier on and what happened in India and start thinking we are safe — to say it’s very far away from us and that we may not go the same way,” said Dr. Mark Nanyingi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Liverpool in Britain. He called the surge in western Kenya a “storm on the horizon.”
said. But experts say the true scale of the pandemic far exceeds reported figures in Africa, where testing and tracing remain a challenge for many countries, and many nations do not collect mortality data.
To forestall the ongoing crisis, Kenya’s Ministry of Health last week imposed a restriction on gatherings and extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Kisumu and more than a dozen surrounding counties. But the measures were too late for Dr. Nyunya, who said that thinking back on the deliberations —which involved the county governor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, a former national health minister — over the celebrations last month, “It makes you feel impotent.”
record cases and deaths, President Yoweri Museveni has imposed a strict 42-day lockdown. Just weeks ago, Rwanda hosted the Basketball Africa League and other big sporting events, raising the possibility for a full reopening. But after a spike in cases, the government introduced new lockdown measures on Monday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo — where the virus has claimed the lives of more than 5 percent of lawmakers — is grappling with a third wave as it falters in rolling out vaccines. South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit nation, has reported new infections doubling in just two weeks’ time, with the sharpest increases in major urban centers. Tunisia, where hospitals are full and oxygen supplies are low, is enduring a fourth wave.
“New, higher transmitting variants create a precarious situation in many countries that have weak health systems,” said Dr. Ngozi Erondu, a senior health scholar at the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown University.
The W.H.O. attributes the surge in Africa to lack of vaccination, insufficient adherence to precautionary measures like mask wearing and social distancing and the Delta and other variants.
lament a lack of protective gear and health insurance.
“We are buying our own gloves and masks,” said Dr. Onyango Ndong’a, chairman of the local chapter of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union. “We are covering for government inadequacies. We are tired now. We are stretched.”
For now, families who have lost loved ones are adjusting to a new reality.
Edward Onditi, 33, lost both his brother and his mother to Covid-19 this month. He said he left Nairobi to come and assist his family after his brother, Herbert, whom he regarded as a best friend and mentor, fell ill.
For weeks, the family transported Herbert, 43, between three hospitals in two counties — a distance of 70 miles in total — so that he could get high-flow oxygen. On the day before Herbert died, Edward had fish, his brother’s favorite meal, delivered to his isolation ward and promised to take him on a holiday once he was out.
“I’m so touched,” his brother said in a text message sent on June 2.
Barely 12 hours later, he was gone.
A few days later, their mother, Naomi, who had been ailing, succumbed to complications from Covid-19, too.
“It’s one of the toughest moments of my life,” Mr. Onditi said on a recent afternoon, his eyes welling with tears. “Things are just not working. They are not adding up.”