With “Zero Covid”, China proved that it is good at controlling. Government is more difficult.

A widely circulated WeChat article speculated that the shortage of anti-fever drugs reflected the government’s unpreparedness to loosen control. And if the government had shown the same political will it had when it came to carrying out “covid zero”, the article argued, it could have ensured that there was an ample supply of this medicine.

“He doesn’t care about ordinary people, leaving them to fend for themselves and even reveling in their chaos,” the article said, urging officials to show up where the public needed them most to restore confidence

Low trust in government is forcing people to help themselves and help each other. In local WeChat groups, people made arrangements to share their fever medicine and rapid test kits with their neighbors.

Tencent, the social media giant, also created a WeChat program where people could order medicine from strangers with more. The requests for help are modest: six acetaminophen tablets; four ibuprofen tablets; two rapid test kits; a thermometer

They ask for help from strangers because they don’t get it from their government.

“Don’t expect anything from Leviathan; there’s no point in appealing either,” Chen Min, a former journalist better known by his pen name Xiao Shu, wrote on his WeChat timeline, referring to the central government. “In the end, we have to help ourselves.”

Only by building a broad network of social connections, he continued, “can we weave a real social safety net in the darkest moment, build a veritable Noah’s ark, and save countless lives.”

This is exactly the kind of government crisis that Mr. Xi had once warned the party.

“It is not for us to judge the capacity of government or the performance of our party; they must and can only be judged by the people,” Mr. Xi said in a speech in 2013. “If we are pretentious and divorce ourselves from the people or put ourselves above them, we will surely be abandoned by them. This is the case with any party, and it is an iron law that admits of no exception.”

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