By Dorothy Li and Steve Lance
January 9, 2023 Updated: January 9, 2023
Since the initial lockdown of Wuhan in early 2020, the Chinese regime ordered officials to eliminate every COVID infection among communities through repeated testings, swift lockdowns, and digital surveillance, despite mounting economic and human tolls.
But in early December, following a nationwide uproar, the regime abruptly retreated from the hallmark pandemic policy, known as zero-COVID, allowing the virus to proliferate through the unprepared population, which was lacking in natural immunity after nearly three years of sporadic lockdowns.
The timing of the U-turn is suspicious, according to Yan Limeng, a Chinese virologist who has accused the Chinese regime of covering up the pandemic.
“We see that international pressure comes to China government because the House Intelligence Committee has recently published a report, [which] pointed out the connection between the COVID-19 virus and also [the] Chinese government’s biological weapons study,” the COVID-19 whistleblower, who now resides in the United States, said in a recent interview with the “Capitol Report” program on NTD, a sister media of The Epoch Times.
The Chinese dissident scientist was referring to a Dec. 15 report by Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee. The publication concluded that there are indications that COVID-19 “may have been tied to China’s biological weapons research program and spilled over to the human population during a lab-related incident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).”
The report highlighted U.S. lawmakers’ efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID pandemic, Yan noted.
“They also said they will hold [the] Chinese Communist Party accountable,” she said.
“This is very big international pressure for Xi Jinping’s regime, and so that’s why it’s a very suspicious timing.”
That international pressure came as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its top leader Xi Jinping faced unprecedented challenges at home.
Bold street protests, widely known as the “white paper revolution” because demonstrators used blank white paper to speak out against suffocating pandemic controls, broke out in major cities and prominent university campuses across the nation from Nov. 26. Some young demonstrators in Shanghai went even further, calling Xi and the CCP to step down.
The biggest display of public discontent in decades reflects the “very strong” instabilities for the CCP and Xi’s control domestically, Yan said.
Then, the authorities abruptly retreated from the zero-COVID policy long championed by the CCP. With the virus now spreading like wildfire across the country, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums, public anger over the regime’s pandemic control gave way to anxiety about coping with infection.
“So there is no protest now,” Yan said.
Additionally, as the CCP covered up true information about the outbreak, global officials and experts felt compelled to shift their attention and look for evidence to gauge the impact of the latest public health crisis in China.
Therefore, “China has gained more time to do other things, to conduct other tactics or operations.”
“So for certain levels, this kind of outbreak helped Xi Jinping to make more time or chance for their own purpose.”
Outbreaks have spread unabated through China’s 1.4 billion population with weakened immune systems after three years of harsh lockdowns.
Official data on infection and deaths have drawn mounting criticism over their lack of credibility. China’s top health regulator stopped publishing daily infections and acknowledged only a handful of deaths since early December—a figure at odds with accounts from crematorium workers across China since last month.
But as many as 248 million people, or 18 percent of the country’s population, were estimated to have caught the virus between Dec. 1 to 20, according to a memo from an internal meeting of China’s top health body leaked online and confirmed by news outlets.
Local officials and domestic experts estimated the infection rate likely exceeded 50 percent in multiple provinces. That number reached nearly 90 percent in Henan, China’s third most populous province.
Yan, a postdoctoral researcher specializing in virology and immunology at the University of Hong Kong before fleeing to the United States, found it hard to explain the worsening COVID situation in China.
“We see the situation getting worse and worse, and it cannot only [be] explained using the immune response difference, or the coverage of vaccination, or the nature origin outbreak.
“A lot of suspicious things happened, which we need more information [on].”
“We don’t know what exactly variants are circulating in China, although [the] government told people that [it] is Omicron. But the symptom is much more severe on average in the population, and transmission is very high. And also we see the death toll increasing like crazy, with a lot of more people having pneumonia, even [though] they’re the healthy adults.”
The virologist described the situation in China as “very concerning,” but noted that despite this China decided to reopen its borders.
China has lifted mandatory quarantine rules for inbound travelers and allowed its citizens to head abroad. On Monday, the first working day after authorities began processing passport applications for tourism outside China, more than 100 people waited outside Beijing’s immigration office to renew their passports.
With a flux of Chinese expected to head abroad amid the explosive outbreak at home, Yan is concerned about whether the world is prepared. She described what would happen after China’s COVID wave gets unleashed worldwide as a “big worry.”
A growing number of countries, most recently the Netherlands and Portugal, have imposed COVID testing requirements for visitors traveling from China, with many citing concerns regarding the possibility of a new, more deadly strain of the virus emerging from the country.
While some health experts remain skeptical about such a scenario, Dong Yuhong, a medical doctor specializing in infectious disease, noted it’s necessary for people outside China to be alert due to the lack of accurate data on China’s outbreak.
“The best way is to take a very strict policy for Chinese people
Aside from government-level actions like travel curbs, there are more things the public could do in preparation, according to Dong, also a contributor to The Epoch Times. For example, she encouraged people to boost their immunity by taking vitamins, getting more sunshine, and having good rest.
“Also, remain calm, keep a positive attitude, [and] think of others,” she continued. “[A] less stressful mental status helps you to fight against any kind of virus, regardless [of] how pathogenic, how lethal it is.”
Dorothy Li is a reporter for The Epoch Times based in Europe.
Steve Lance is the host of Capitol Report, a political news show based in Washington aimed at providing a direct channel to the voices and people who shape policy in America. Capitol Report features all of the political news of the day with expert interviews and analysis.