During the pandemic, it has become common to play authoritarianism against democracyoften paintedas a more effective regime type in dealing with COVID-19. The Chinese Communist Party’s own narrativepromotes a version of this argumentEquating China’s success in keeping cases and deaths low with the “superiority” of its political system. This is despitesuccessful containmentfrom some democracies.
However, it is problematic to argue that the world should ignore the regime type and instead focus on learning from China’s politics – it depends on the assumption that politics can easily be transferred from one political system to another. The introduction of policies from a different regime type requires that these policies be adapted to the systems into which they are incorporated.
China’s lockdowns are a major example. They managed to control the transmission because they did followed a clear logic, based on the nature and features of their political system. To learn from China’s lockdowns, we need to understand both the logic behind them and the meaning of the context in which they took place.
Lockdown in Wuhan
Wuhan’s lockdown began on January 23, 2020. At 2 a.m. with no public debate, authorities ordered All public transport in and outside the city must stop at 10 a.m. Then orders came Stop online car hail, close the tunnel under the Yangtze (which cuts through the city) and Prohibit motor vehicle use. The city was brought to a standstill.
However, the logical outcome of the cessation of traffic was that the government itself had to provide alternatives. It ordered the districts to provide transportation for transferring patients and requested taxis for communal use.
After the movement stopped, the government turned to building hospitals and procuring facilities exclusively for COVID-19 patients. It was then able to split up its population. It established four categories of people Separate from the rest: confirmed cases, suspected cases, people with symptoms where infection could not be ruled out, and contacts. The first subgroup was sent for treatment, the last three to centralized isolation facilities.
This was coupled with measures to restrict movement for everyone outside of the four categories. To make compliance easier, the government urged community workers and volunteers nationwide to set up checkpoints at neighborhood entrances around the clock to register anyone who gets in or out. This formed a two-pronged approach: a collective effort that successfully restricted the movements of citizens, along with the government that put in place a wide network to eradicate and treat or isolate every last person deemed at risk of transmission.
These measures required mass mobilization involving countless residents, community workers, party members and local people militiaand employees of state and state-owned companies. Quickly organized teams manned checkpoints, made deliveries and went door-to-door asking people about their movements and health.
All of this – the inexcusable comprehensive categorization of people, the mass mobilization, the replacement of citizens’ choice with government-provided alternatives, and the relocation of people who are seen as a risk of transmission – relied on the existing core capacities and best practices of the Communist Party and his government. Their logic made sense to a society well acquainted with this system of government.
Hebei: same logic, new methods
The same logic is now being used in very different circumstances in Hebei, a province near Beijing. Three core elements of this logic are the restriction of movement, the mandatory, but also the enabling of compliance and the elimination of people who are seen as a source of risk.
The Gaocheng District of Shijiazhuang – a city of more than 11 million people, which includes both rural and urban areas – is at the center of a new outbreak. All people and vehicles there are not allowed to leave. The provincial court warned against it that anyone who does not cooperate can be prosecuted. Nangong – home to half a million people – now has a second city notified Citizens who have forbidden leaving the house and who break the rules are arrested.
While the logic remains the same, the politics of isolation evolves: who is isolated – and how they are isolated – has changed. The government is building temporary mass insulation systems for anyone who could potentially be infected. As there are not enough facilities such as hotels available in rural areas to prevent the virus from spreading to villages and individual households, isolation centers are being built from scratch.
Instead of just isolating contacts, secondary contacts are now also isolated. Shijiazhuang has found 986 new casesand yet in Gaocheng, Authorities ordered 15 entire villages – more than 20,000 people – to move to “centralized isolation”.
This applies and extends the principle of “isolating all who must be isolated”. described by an expert from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a package that is central to China’s success. “Everyone” in Gaocheng’s case meant anyone from a village with at least one case. Only villages without cases were allowed to isolate at home.
Authorities have just announced the nationwide adoption of this isolation model. Local governments need to make forward-looking plans to request enough buildings for contacts and secondary contacts. In rural areas, they have to prepare for the construction of large insulation systems.
Learning by thinking
In light of the country’s new lockdowns, China’s successful actions prompt reflection on our own approaches. According to Chinese policy, mandatory isolation includes anyone who may be infected, and mandatory centralized isolation seeks to reduce the risk of infection within the household.
China’s methods of control combine population categorization, dynamic ability to find possible infections, strict compliance, and government coordination of everything from isolating a person to accessing food. These methods are largely based on system-wide mobilization, with Chinese citizens playing a key role. At the heart of China’s response is the replacement of citizens’ elections with the command and organization of government.
In the UK, however, in addition to individual choice and responsibility, a premium is placed on public debate. In order for the policy to be adopted from China, it would have to be adapted to this context. If Britons are to be asked (not forced) to isolate themselves, they must be financially able to do so. Home isolation needs to be facilitated by clear, consistent, and accessible guidelines to limit the risk of infection within the household. And if centralized isolation To take into account, a discussion about how to help people comply is needed.
If you think about a year of lockdown, you can learn something from China. A good starting point, however, is to recognize that, in order to be successful, policies must follow a coherent logic and fit into the political system in which they are used.