Drones, PCR testing for fish, Zombie apocalypses — China’s Zero Covid policy limps on

Isobel Cockerell


Even fish, swimming around in the sea, minding their own business, aren’t safe from China’s radical “zero Covid” policies. Absurd photos of fish being throat-swabbed for PCR testing have led to widespread mirth on social media. The Chinese government believes a recent outbreak on the southern island of Hainan may have begun in a fishmonger’s shop, so authorities are testing everyone — and everything — including the fish. The country’s bid to stamp out Covid could last for years, experts say, despite the country’s economic woes caused by prolonged, rolling lockdowns and epidemic prevention policies. 

As the fish story demonstrates, China’s efforts to curb the virus are increasingly desperate. Last week, China censored DXY, a leading health information platform — which, in the early days of the pandemic, was a go-to resource for tens of millions of people wanting to monitor the spread of the virus. The platform frequently debunks medical misinformation, and is known for being critical of unproven Chinese Traditional Medicine remedies, a key part of the government’s Covid-fighting strategy. The platform has also been targeted in the past by nationalist bloggers, who claim it’s too critical of China’s healthcare system.

Chinese citizens live under constant threat of yet another Covid lockdown. And for those in Shanghai, that prospect is particularly harrowing. Covid is far from a distant memory in the sprawling megalopolis — one district announced it would be deploying drones to inspect neighborhoods and monitor people in the name of “epidemic prevention and control.” If people are seen gathering together, they will be commanded to disperse via a megaphone attached to the drone, while  “ground forces will be linked in real time.”No wonder Shanghai residents are edgy. A video did the rounds on Weibo last week of dozens of people running flat out, fleeing a building in Shanghai last week. People joked it looked like a zombie apocalypse — but the real source of everyone’s terror? An alleged abnormal Covid test result.


Twitter has facilitated the spread of homophobic monkeypox disinformation, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. When the first children in the U.S. were infected, right-wing commentators suggested they must have been infected by sexual interactions with LGBTQ men. The accusations play on homophobic stereotypes about gay men grooming children and take advantage of the fact that monkeypox is disproportionately affecting the gay community. The disinformation was fueled by Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a known QAnon supporter. She set off a wave of so-called ‘just asking tweets’, by disingenuously asking “If monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” As early as May, the UN AIDS program flagged that stigmatizing language about the disease could reinforce anti-gay tropes that hark back to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. That’s now become a reality. “We learn nothing from our history,” Jason Farley, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, told NBC this week. 

A children’s hospital in Boston has been inundated with violent threats and harassment over its care for transgender children and teens. The hospital was already snowed under by right-wing abuse including phone calls and harassing emails after an influencer account called  “Libs of Tiktok,” directed its 1.3 million followers to “doxx” the hospital and target the institution and anyone who works there with abuse. The leading New England hospital runs the first transgender health program for pediatric and adolescent patients in the U.S. Anti-transgender commentators claimed the hospital was mutilating children and providing hysterectomies to young girls. The hospital made a statement on Tuesday denying it performed genital surgeries on patients under the age of 18, and that underage patients were only allowed to receive surgical consultations. The statement did not quell the abuse — and doctors began receiving death threats. Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson then added fuel to the fire, by claiming the hospital was engaging in “the sexual mutilation of children.” “He knows exactly what he’s doing,” tweeted Alejandra Caraballo, an instructor at Harvard’s Cyberlaw clinic. “He’s inciting further violence to carry out his goals of eliminating trans people.”

Actor and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness website Goop posted a new article last week answering a question on all our lips — why people believe in conspiracy theories. “You may have witnessed it firsthand, watching the viral documentary Plandemic,” the post says, before featuring an interview with Daniel Jolley, a U.K. expert on conspiracy theories. But the very fact that this discussion of conspiracy theories was posted to Goop of all places struck a note of irony with doctors and scientists online — Paltrow’s wellness empire has been slammed in the past for promoting unproven cures and making unsubstantiated medical claims while promoting alternative treatments. Remember Jade-Egg-Gate? In 2017 Goop sold a $66 Jade egg, claiming that when inserted into the vagina, it could improve orgasms and hormonal imbalances. Goop had to cough up a $145,000 fine for making false marketing claims. Commenting on Goop’s coverage of conspiracies, Canadian health law professor Timothy Caulfield tweeted: “Well, Goop, YOU spread and exploit them and legitimize magical thinking. And YOU promote the fearmongering and anti-science ethos that drives conspiracy theories.”


The Venice Film Festival is coming up. But have you heard of the Prague Film Festival? No? That’s because it doesn’t exist. Chinese propaganda agencies have been inventing fake film festivals and lavishing their own films with awards from them. One such film which won a “Best Documentary Award” at the (fake) Prague Festival was called “Spring, seeing Hong Kong again,” a dewy-eyed look at how the city is apparently recovering from both Covid and political chaos. China Media Project has done a fascinating investigation into China’s propaganda documentaries and their appearances at entirely fake international film festivals. It’s a must-read.  

This newsletter is curated by Coda’s senior reporter Isobel Cockerell. Frankie Vetch contributed to this edition.