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Chinese People Struggle to Find the “Courage” to Live With Covid-19

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“Wear your mask and avoid crowded areas – we only have ourselves to rely on now,” Hu wrote in her family group conversation on WeChat.

After nearly three years of a zero-COVID approach that included lockdowns, mass testing, and centralised quarantine to eradicate the virus wherever it appeared, China has abruptly began to ease some of its most stringent restrictions.

The policy move occurred immediately after a wave of anti-lockdown protests swept across the country, slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy and disrupting the lives of millions of people.

The policy’s relaxation has pleased many, particularly those whose economic livelihoods have been harmed, but many are concerned about what will happen next, with health experts predicting an increase in coronavirus cases in a country where the vast majority of people have not been exposed to the virus and many elderly people have not received full courses of the vaccine.

The zero-COVID campaign also implies that the Chinese government has been pushing a narrative of an undeniably lethal virus and portraying the rest of the world’s decision to live with it as a risky move since 2020.

Nonetheless, it only took the government a few nights to begin undoing the anti-pandemic programme it had so fiercely established.

Within a week, the government eliminated PCR testing requirements for access to most public venues, decommissioned the national COVID-19 tracking software — a defining symbol of China’s anti-pandemic tactics — and generally relaxed the other measures that had so restricted everyone’s daily life.

‘Lost in The Open’

Many people have been bewildered and even terrified as a result of the abrupt change.

People with underlying disorders or who have had their immune systems weakened are known to be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and Hu has had ovarian cancer treatment.

She recently passed the five-year mark since the last cancerous cells were detected in her body, indicating that the disease has most likely been suppressed, but she is “extremely nervous” about the sudden shift in COVID-19 policies and is cancelling all non-essential trips outside her home to avoid “any risk of infection.”

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“The doctors say they’re worried about the immunizations’ adverse effects on me.”

“But now we’re out in the open, without immunizations or state protection.”

Al Jazeera met with five immunocompromised individuals who were not immunised. They all told stories of how the government had been hesitant and unwilling to vaccinate them due to safety concerns.

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Patients suffering from underlying conditions are now concerned that they will not have enough time to get vaccinated before the virus strikes their city or building.

“No one was hurried to receive the vaccine previously, but now doctors are apprehensive since there is no instruction from the top,” said Ding Siyang, a dialysis patient in Kunming, a southwestern Chinese city. “We’re all a little scared.”

Fear grips the country’s significant senior population as well. Despite the government’s rush to immunise the elderly following policy easing, the National Health Commission reports that just 60% of those over the age of 80 have been immunised.

A Hong Kong study found that elderly persons who were immunised with Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines only had enough protection against serious disease after the booster shot.

Because of the relatively low vaccination rate among vulnerable populations, experts foresee a rapid rise of cases in the depths of winter in China, which might overwhelm the world’s most populous country’s meagre medical facilities.

Vulnerable people are not the only ones who are concerned about the impending COVID-19 outbreak.

After three years of incessant preaching, there is also fear among the young and healthy – people who, according to conventional opinion, should be better able to cope with the condition.

Since COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan three years ago and the metropolis of 8.5 million was walled off, experts have been investigating the effect of protracted lockdowns on people’s mental health.

According to The Lancet, one of the world’s major medical publications, “35 percent of respondents suffered difficulty, including anxiety and depression” in the first national study on psychological suffering in the COVID-19 pandemic in China beginning in 2020.

Also Read: China Abandons Key Components of Its Zero-Covid Goal in Response to Objections

“School closures were connected with unfavourable mental health symptoms and behaviours among children and adolescents,” it noted, saying that relief at the end of Wuhan’s lockdown was tempered by “widespread concern over transitioning to ordinary life and fear that viral transmission will rebound.”

According to Xiao Lu, a Shanghai-based psychiatrist, the infrequent but extended lockdowns in China have left many individuals “weary and despondent.”

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“Being separated from friends and family because of the disease that many were afraid of is a huge trigger for a lot of people,” she explained.

Lu Xueqin, a 35-year-old native of Changsha in central China, has been vaccinated and boosted using vaccines developed in China, but her mind wanders back to the early days of the pandemic, when medical resources were stretched to the breaking point.

“I don’t want to go back to those days,” Lu stated.

Vaccines have been produced since Wuhan in early 2020, and the virus itself has progressed. The difference between then and now is clear: the additional protection afforded by a wide range of vaccines, as well as improved treatments, have resulted in a more widespread but less severe wave of Omicron variants.

However, in China, Beijing’s fearmongering portrayal of the virus since Wuhan has made it more difficult for people to confront a future with COVID-19.

Must Read: Results suggest that Covid-19 could become a more lethal strain in the future.

“Anxiety will almost certainly rise for many people who previously believed being infected with the coronavirus was practically like a death sentence,” Xiao Lu.

Despite the fact that top-level experts have gone on national television to assure the people that the new variation is not as fatal as the one that decimated Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic, dread is widespread.

Lu is concerned that until the government communicates more forcefully with the public about the shifting nature of the virus, many more people would suffer from worry and even despair.

“It has been scientifically proven that ambiguity increases anxiety in those who are already anxious, and a change in policy without good communication with the public will exacerbate the situation,” she noted.

As instances increase with looser controls, such uncertainty and fear could have long-term consequences.

“Currently, the epidemic in China is… expanding rapidly, and under such conditions, no matter how good the prevention and control is, it will be difficult to totally cut off the transmission chain,” Zhong Nanshan, a top government health adviser, said on Sunday.

Fear of infection with COVID-19 was the top concern among those who stated they would not go in a study conducted earlier this month by firm Oliver Wyman among 4,000 customers polled.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Lu said when asked if she wants to travel from her home in Changsha now that the limits are relaxed. “I can scarcely muster the bravery to leave my place right now.”

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