With a stubborn strain of the Covid-19 virus spreading across China this year and forcing hundreds of millions of people into lockdown, officials have turned to a new tool: the regular. Comprehensive PCR Test. By testing every citizen several times a week, authorities hoped to isolate cases faster and avoid disruptive lockdowns in the future.
But in recent months, this approach has failed to slow some The largest outbreak in China. Now, with the politically significant Communist Party Congress approaching a few days, the mass testing program that has become the cornerstone of China’s “zero covid” strategy It appears to be faltering, although it remains an integral part of the country’s urban landscape and balloons into a multi-billion dollar business.
In a desperate attempt to isolate the recent outbreaks, health workers have resorted to constructing buildings and even cordoning off single individuals in public spaces. Nearly two hundred million people are in some form of lockdown in China. In every village, town, and city, testing requirements are becoming more burdensome and penalties for non-compliance more severe.
However, as the testing device grows larger and larger, the resources to support it have come under more financial pressure, and the government, which funds most of the tests, has shown signs that it is struggling to repay.
China’s comprehensive testing strategy – which has After approval of the mRNA vaccine It began in May with an order for cities of more than 10 million people to conduct regular testing and provide testing facilities within a 15-minute walk of anywhere in the city. Overnight, tens of thousands of test booths appeared in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
Blythe Day said she gets tested for coronavirus as frequently as possible. Her grandmother was recently dying in hospital, but Ms. Day was not allowed to see her because the 48-hour negative PCR test had expired.
“Covid is not very scary,” said Ms. Dai, a 30-year-old who lives in Shanghai. Instead, she said, it’s the emotional cost she and others have to pay. “We have sacrificed a lot to control the epidemic,” she said.
For smaller local governments already under pressure to stimulate a slowing economy, building a large test network from those in Shanghai and Beijing has created huge financial pressures.
local authorities in Provinces such as Shanxi And the Indeed Jiangxi Transfer of funds from public projects to finance epidemic surveillance and control. In some cities, civil servants have faced pay cuts. In other cases, officials’ bonuses to help support testing have been frozen.
However, there are signs from some of China’s largest testing companies of a cash shortfall.
This summer, Dian Diagnostics said the amount of money she was still owed in payments had nearly doubled over the past year and warned of “bad debt risks.” Shanghai Runda Medical Technology recently said that unpaid bills increased by a quarter over the same period. Guangzhou Kingmed Diagnostics has warned that delays in payments could raise the level of risk.
“There is a serious imbalance between local government revenues and expenditures,” analysts at the Bank of China Research Institute wrote in a note to clients in late September. They estimated that regular mass testing would cost roughly $100 billion annually if 900 million people were tested every three days.
Cases continue to rise as these financial pressures mount. Last week, Liu Sushi, a top official in the Xinjiang region, rarely admitted defeat when he said, “We have not been able to achieve dynamic zero Covid for more than two months,” citing the “ineffectiveness of our control measures”. “
While testing procedures prove less effective, the industry continues to generate huge profits. Jialin Zhang, head of China healthcare research at Japan’s Nomura Bank, said larger companies such as Dian Diagnostics reported more than doubling revenue during the first six months of this year.
For Chinese citizens like Chen Yaya, these fortunes have come to symbolize the futility of Beijing’s policy on the non-proliferation of coronavirus.
Ms Chen, who is based in Shanghai, said she has been quietly protesting the city’s testing requirements by refusing to be scanned more than once a week, as required. She organizes her schedule so that she does her grocery shopping and sees friends within the first 72 hours after the weekly test. By limiting the number of tests you get, you hope to avoid piling up test companies’ pockets and their chances of going into lockdown.
“Reducing the profits of testing companies is only a superficial reason” to avoid testing, Chen said. She is mostly worried that she will be arrested or sent to a government isolation facility if she tests positive. “That’s why I try to do as little as possible.”
To force people to undergo screening, the authorities have come up with more punitive measures. In the SouthAnd the north And the the East In China, police detained people for days for skipping PCR tests, sometimes locking them up for more than a week.
There was a time when China’s ability to find and isolate cases was considered the crown jewel of its epidemic strategy. While countries around the world have seen a rise in infections and hospitals reaching capacity, China’s Covid numbers have remained low, allowing officials in Beijing to enjoy their success in dealing with the virus while Chinese consumers have kept the economy thriving.
But the new near-daily testing system aimed at combating intractable variants is facing growing frustration as the true costs of maintaining such a program become more apparent. For temporary job workers who get paid only by command, for example, waiting in line for a test can mean lost wages.
For people like Haily Zhao, who is flushed every 72 hours as required by the authorities in Beijing, she experiences reductions in the time she needs to decompress after work. “It’s not like, ‘I can do whatever I want as long as I do the PCR test,'” said Ms. Zhao, 26. “Test first.”
When a conference recently used the slogan “the PCR boom era” in its marketing materials, the backlash was so rapid that organizers had to cancel the event and later make it clear that it was not intended to promote the PCR test. “Some people are rubbing salt into the wounds of those who suffer,” one commentator wrote about the conference online.
Even some of the workers who swabbed throats and noses and ran test results lost enthusiasm for the country’s testing protocols. Before mass testing was mandated in China, there were 153,000 people working as testers and hundreds of thousands Volunteers are members of the Communist Party willing to help fight the coronavirus.
But the job is tiring and pays little. While a lab technician can earn up to $4,250 a month, surveying job ads offer something closer to $1,000.
“It’s a boring, boring, repetitive mechanical job,” said Hu Shixin, a university student in the eastern city of Nanjing. Mr. Hu volunteered for two weeks in August to help with testing in the industrial city of Taiyuan as part of the Communist Party’s youth program. He was wearing a sweaty protective suit, scanning identification cards and distributing PCR test tubes.
Mr. Hu said some community workers and the doctor sometimes cut corners and pretend to test people without taking samples. “They may not think that a PCR test is absolutely necessary,” he added. “For them, doing a PCR test is just a job.”
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