Even China Is Realizing Total Lockdowns Don't Work. Will Democrats Get It Too?


China is, quite expectedly, dealing with another outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Somewhat unexpectedly, however, they’re realizing that totally locking down an entire region simply doesn’t work.

According to The New York Times, the latest hot spot for the virus is in Beijing. It would of course be quite difficult and inconvenient to lock down the massive Chinese capital — but not impossible, given that China locked down other areas for months.

This time, however, they’re doing it a bit differently.

As The Times reported on June 19, “Beijing’s leaders are trying to stamp out the latest outbreak, now at 183 infections after 25 more were announced on Friday morning. But they are not crushing the entire city, and its nascent economic revival, with heavy-handed restrictions.

“The approach contrasts with China’s earlier efforts to contain the virus in the central province of Hubei and its capital city, Wuhan, where the epidemic broke out late last year. For over two months, the city of 11 million was under a tight lockdown that required support from tens of thousands of doctors, party officials and security personnel. The lockdown helped control the outbreak but also stalled the economy.”

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Yes, the Chinese Communist Party will still be the Chinese Communist Party. Looser restrictions don’t necessarily mean that this is the kind of place where there’s a robust debate over whether a mask order should be obeyed. They tell you to, and you obey.

However, with contact tracing and testing, they’ve decided against a total lockdown of Beijing — even as they’ve conducted more than a million tests in the city.

Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for global health Yanzhong Huang told The Times that China simply can’t afford to do things the way it used to do.

“You cannot expect people to accept the pain for too long,” he said. “Because then you have unemployment problems and even emotional stresses that could all have huge implications for social and political stability.”

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“With a war, you can fight it once and people go all out for it. But the second, third and fourth time, it drains people out, and its traction diminishes over time,” Lynette Ong, a University of Toronto political scientist who studies China, told The Times.

“That is very much the risk. For subsequent waves, it has to be a more inclusive approach. It has already drained people.”

Granted, there have been sacrifices. The Xinfadi wholesale food market, a major commercial hub in the city and the locus of the infections, has been shuttered. Half the flights out of the capital and almost all buses traveling to other provinces are canceled, and there aren’t as many people taking public transit in the city. Plus, half a million people in a province surrounding Beijing were placed in lockdown Sunday, AFP reported.

However, there’s general agreement that the draconian policies that China used to control the outbreak in Wuhan simply won’t work this time on such a massive scale. While local officials and the general manager of the food market were dismissed, China still seems bent on reopening.

“That sends a signal to local officials,” Huang said. “Even if you were told to accelerate the reopening, still the top priority is keeping the number at zero, and that can be mission impossible.”

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The question raises itself, then: As America faces another spike in cases of the novel coronavirus, will U.S. politicians — especially the Democratic governors in states where restrictions were most stringent, like New York, California and Michigan — think it’s possible to contain the virus with more total lockdowns?

Again, lockdown in the United States doesn’t exactly look like lockdown in China, which is still fairly draconian compared to what we saw in our own country. Both types of lockdowns, however, have had a similar impact on their respective countries’ economies.

This time around, it’s possible in certain parts of Beijing to go about one’s business without even knowing there’s an outbreak of the coronavirus in the capital.

Beijing resident Mu Xicheng, who lives on the other side of the city from the market, wasn’t concerned.

“We are not worried, no one in our neighborhood is worried or scared, because it is in Xinfadi,” the retired construction worker told The Times. “We all wear masks because the government asks us to wear them — it’s good for us and also good for our country.”

Meanwhile, we’re wondering whether states in the U.S. will reimpose lockdowns after a case spike in the United States.

Florida and Texas, for instance, are pushing back their reopening after both states saw spikes in cases, according to the Financial Times.

Some of the measures might work. For instance, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has called for all bars to close and restaurants to operate at half capacity.

Of course, there’s also the usual flurry of activity like the mask order from Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in Washington state.

All of this is relatively difficult if just because, well, doing it for the second or third time is going to wear on the populace.

We already saw how much of an impact the first wave of lockdowns, particularly in Democratic-run states and cities, had on the people of the United States.

Is doing that a second time going to work? Considering the fact that we’ve seen anti-lockdown protests on the right and protests touched off by the death of George Floyd on the left, are we going to reimpose stay-at-home orders that ended up failing the first time?

Do politicians who were quick to restrict people’s freedoms the first time get that this will fail again?

Emptying the streets and shops of Wuhan didn’t work to rid China of the disease. This time, the Chinese government is taking a different tack.

It’s unusual we get to say this: Maybe it’s time we look to China’s direction, if not their exact strategies, in going forward. America can’t take any more fits and starts.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture