He would have convinced the Chinese president to bring forward the reopening after the popular protests at the end of November. The economy was in danger. Placating the young was politically less risky than sacrificing the elderly and vulnerable to contagion. Doubts remain about the official figures for deaths and infections.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - The incoming premier Li Qiang allegedly orchestrated the end of Xi Jinping's draconian Covid reset policy according to an investigation published today by Reuters, which cites several official sources familiar with the matter.
Appointed at the October Congress as number two in the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, Li accelerated plans to lift health restrictions earlier than expected after widespread popular protests broke out in the country in late November.
The leadership's plans were originally for a gradual easing of restrictive measures by December, to reach a state of normalcy in March. Leading the Party's task force to combat Covid, Li reportedly overcame Xi's initial opposition to bringing forward the reopenings, such as the National Health Commission's suggestion to improve vaccination levels of the older population first.
It was not only popular pressure that weighed on the final decision, but also the realisation that the zero-Covid line was driving the national economy towards one of its worst performances in 50 years.
Then the local authorities could no longer implement containment actions such as lockdowns and mass diagnostic tests, because they lacked the necessary funds. Official figures show that last year alone Beijing municipality spent USD 4.4 billion on health control prevention efforts.
With contagion on the rise anyway, the communist leadership judged that pacifying dissent was politically less risky than allowing the virus to spread rapidly: in essence, the regime sacrificed the elderly, the most vulnerable to the infections.
On 16 February, Xi declared a 'decisive victory' at Covid-19. To date, there are no official figures of deaths since the reopening on 7 December. The Reuters investigation shows that the authorities cut the actual number of infections by 50% in the autumn.
To get an idea of what happened, the images of the queues of people at the crematorium ovens, the hospitals saturated with patients, and the pharmacies lacking medicines remain.