China’s zero-Covid policy contributed to high youth unemployment and great difficulty caring for pets

NEWS AND OPINION-CHINA: the current news about China, widely reported in the West, is that its economy is going through a tough time and there’s high youth unemployment. It appears that youth unemployment is so bad they’ve stopped publishing data about it. And there’s a link between the difficulty of being a pet owner in China and the high youth unemployment.

President Xi Jinping's policy during the back end of the pandemic to impose strict lockdowns on millions of people was very tough on pet owners and very unpopular and it caused real hardship
President Xi Jinping’s policy during the back end of the pandemic to impose strict lockdowns on millions of people was very tough on pet owners and very unpopular and it caused real hardship. Image: Reuters.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Strict zero-Covid lockdown

Both were badly impacted by President Xi Jinping’s policy during the back end of the pandemic to impose strict lockdowns on millions of people. It was agony for them and it caused huge difficulties in for instance keeping small businesses alive. It was so bad for Chinese citizens that they were complaining so much that the pressure mounted on the president to change policy. There were protests in a country where overt protests are very tricky.

The financial Times reports that the zero-Covid policy quotes weighed heavily on the service sector and the service sector hires a lot of young people.

That, of course, is not the only reason why youth unemployment is believed to be running as high as 46.5% which seems remarkable. The figure is a guess because we don’t have the data but before publication was stopped the rate was 21%.

And, coming out of Covid, China is going through a phase of ‘economic gloom’ as the news media call it. One reason was the series of strict lockdowns because of the concern about outbreaks of the Omicron variant. This crippled consumption which helped to push the growth figure below the official target of 5.5% which was already the lowest it’s been indicates.

Younger people are the most vulnerable in the labour market because they have no experience. High unemployment is also due to “broad-based economic weakness” (the Financial Times).

What is a particular concern for me is the way the draconian lockdowns in places like Shanghai, a vast conurbation with a population of 24.8 million people, caused great distress for pet owners. During Shanghai’s strict Covid-19 lockdown rules most of the city’s residents were not allowed out of their apartments.

Taking a dog for a walk became almost impossible. People had to devise all kinds of methods to get around the problem. Some people stored up masses of cat and dog food and others converted one room to look like the outdoors where they were able to exercise their dogs and give them the opportunity to have a poop in ‘natural surroundings’. It didn’t always work!

One pet owner said that she tried to show her young dog what to do “but he just didn’t understand. Since he was a puppy, he’s been used to going outside to do his business”.

This woman, Xiang, felt compelled to break the lockdown rules. She sneaked out every night after midnight to give her dog a five-minute pee break. That didn’t work all the time either so sometimes her dog didn’t go to the toilet for days.

And during those strict lockdown periods, if a person tested positive for Covid they had to go to hospital or to special quarantine facilities where pets were not allowed. The pets were temporarily abandoned. People were not allowed to return home and leave hospital unless they’d repeatedly tested negative for Covid.

There appears to have been no clear policies or any policies at all regarding how citizens should deal with pets under the strict Covid-19 lockdown rules.

At the end of the day, citizens quietly joined forces to create a group of pet owners and volunteers to help as best they could. Volunteers served as emergency companion animal taxes. The volunteers helped to sneak companion animals out of apartments in the middle of the night to take them to boarding facilities, foster families or to medical care.

A Shanghai-based lawyer, and a “devoted cat owner”, provided legal advice to concerned pet owners throughout lockdowns and tellingly, he said that the pandemic regulations didn’t include methods to deal with companion animals. This is why it became so difficult to care for them properly. Cat and dog owners didn’t know what was going on.

Confusingly for the population, Shanghai went from zero-Covid to no restrictions. Some terrible animal cruelty took place during the early times of the Covid-19 lockdowns when cats and dogs are abandoned in apartments. The owners simply disappeared. They relied upon volunteers to rescue their pets. It must have resulted in thousands of deaths of cats and dogs through starvation in apartments.

And I can recall the haunting story of Chinese officials entering an apartment in white hazmat to beat to death a small, beloved dog, in the living room. Quite horrendous. In the early part of the Covid pandemic there was real fear about the spread of the disease from pets to people.

I also remember seeing an official beat a dog to death in the street. That appears to have been the modus operandi of officials at that time and it was horribly and unnecessarily brutal as there was no evidence that the disease could be spread from pets to people despite being a zoonotic disease. The chances of it happening were remotely rare. The deaths of many companion animals was unnecessary.

I am able to update the story because The Times newspaper has picked up on it. They say that the dreams of China’s university students of getting a good job and having a good living have “turned to dust”. They are finding themselves in the same sad position as their recession-hit western counterparts. Perhaps they thought they were immune to this problem but they are not.

The Times states that the cause of this dire state of affairs for China’s youngsters is the pandemic lockdown which was longer and tougher in China than anywhere else and “a collapsing global trade”. This is put pressure on manufacturing and the tech industries. Both these industries are the “twin engines of the national economy” in China.

Some students with shattered dreams have returned to their rural communities to become manual labourers typical of their parents and grandparents.

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