Part of their success is finding loopholes to bypass the “Great Firewall of China”.
It appears that the demonstrators have had a small but significant victory, as some of the covid restrictions have loosened.
Following protests nationwide, some local Chinese authorities have started to ease Covid restrictions – in what appears to be a shift toward gradual reopening as the country nears entering the fourth year of the pandemic.
Since last week, more than 20 cities, including the major metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Chengdu, scrapped the requirements for negative Covid tests on public transport, if not other public venues. And some residential compounds now allow infected residents with special needs to quarantine at home, instead of being sent to centralized quarantine.
“I feel like everyone’s hard work is paying off,” said a protester who took part in a demonstration in Beijing.
China’s top health official signaled a change in strategy on Wednesday, by declaring the country’s pandemic controls had entered a “new stage and mission.” Xi later shared his thoughts on the issue with the visiting European Council President, according to an EU official who said the Chinese leader had acknowledged people were frustrated and suggested China was open to relaxing its Covid rules.
And while life is starting to resume some normalcy, “Covid-Zero” still remains the policy and will likely be so until 2024.
On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months. Industrial centers including Guangzhou near Hong Kong have reopened markets and businesses and lifted most curbs on movement while keeping restrictions on neighborhoods with infections.
The government announced plans last week to vaccinate millions of people in their 70s and 80s, a condition for ending “zero-COVID” restrictions that keep most visitors out of China and have disrupted manufacturing and global trade.
That spurred hopes for a quick end to “zero COVID.” But health experts and economists warn it will be mid-2023 and possibly 2024 before vaccination rates are high enough and hospitals are prepared to handle a possible rash of infections.
The protesters achieved their small victory by flooding social media with videos by using sophisticated loopholes to bypass censors.
The flood of videos proved difficult for Chinese censors to control, with many of the videos appearing on Twitter and other Western platforms. The task proved so difficult that China reportedly spammed Twitter with posts about porn and escorts to make it difficult for users to find protest videos when they searched for cities by name.
“Chinese censors have been overwhelmed by a barrage of so-called ‘illegal’ content several times over the last year, for instance, after isolated bank protests in several Chinese provinces,” Singleton explained. “There was also a groundswell of intense online activity in places like Shanghai after draconian lockdowns began taking their toll on the population.”
“In these and other cases, censors proved incapable, at least initially, of blocking much of this content – there simply was too much of it,” he added.
Singleton also noted that Chinese citizens have developed a greater literacy with using virtual private networks (VPNs) – a program that hides a user’s location from internet services – and similar methods to evade the “Great Firewall” of China.
With covid now being an endemic disease, “covid-zero” will never be achievable. But this is a hopeful sign that China’s tanks will stay parked for the time being.DONATE
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