NYT, CNN once claimed China 'won' the pandemic, now citizens are revolting

Prominent media outlets and health experts once praised China's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as successful. Now, China's zero-COVID policy has led to revolt.

The same draconian COVID lockdowns responsible for the eruption of anti-government protests in China were once praised as successful and even necessary by prominent media outlets and health experts.

Thousands of Chinese citizens have taken to the streets in nearly a dozen cities across China to demand an end to President Xi Jinping's "zero-COVID" policy, which has resulted in aggressive quarantines and other measures limiting basic rights. In the past, media outlets offered positive coverage of China's lockdowns, which often suggested the country had solved the pandemic more than a year ago.

The New York Times declared China's policies triumphant in a February 2021 article titled "Power, Patriotism and 1.4 Billion People: How China Beat the Virus and Roared Back."

"In the year since the coronavirus began its march around the world, China has done what many other countries would not or could not do," the paper claimed. "With equal measures of coercion and persuasion, it has mobilized its vast Communist Party apparatus to reach deep into the private sector and the broader population, in what the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, has called a 'people’s war' against the pandemic — and won."


"The success has positioned China well, economically and diplomatically," the paper asserted, noting Xi offering China’s experience "as a model for others to follow." The Times wrote that Xi's methods were "repugnant and unacceptable" in a democratic society, but with China facing the same struggles in 2022 as it was in 2021, the paper's claim that the policy succeeded falls flat.

CNN host Fareed Zakaria declared China would leave the pandemic in a stronger position than ever in January 2021.

"China has come out of this pandemic, in many ways, stronger," he said at the time. "Yes, its reputation got battered a bit because of its early handling, but it has essentially vanquished the virus without a vaccine. It also has vaccines onboard. It is moving forward with much greater confidence in the world."

Some Western outlets declared China's victory over COVID even earlier, however. The New Yorker explained "How China Controlled the Corornavirus" in August 2020.

"I could see the negative effects on my daughters, who were desperate for interaction with other children," wrote author and reporter at large Peter Hessler. "But it was also true that the strict Chinese shutdown, in combination with border closings and contact tracing, had eliminated the spread of the virus in most communities."

Nearly three years later, Chinese data continues to assert that the spread of COVID-19 is low in its communities. Officials in the country of 1.4 billion people asserted that China went from May to November 20 without suffering a single COVID death.


Many health experts also lauded China's efforts as successful. The weekly science journal Nature wrote that the country had "more or less" solved the spread of COVID in December 2020.


"Strong public-health measures such as lockdowns and widespread screening have more or less brought SARS-CoV-2 under control in China, and returned life in many regions of the country to something resembling normal," the journal wrote.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also praised China for its efforts. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus suggested China's supposed success in containing the virus was worth the price of draconian measures. 

"The Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe social and economic impact those measures are having on the Chinese people," he said in January 2020, just months into the pandemic.

Now, as January 2023 nears, Chinese citizens are far from congratulating their government. Some protesters have called for an end to Xi's rule as they clash with police and COVID enforcers across the country.

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