It’s finally Beijing’s turn . After a month of lockdown for Shanghai’s 25 million residents , fears are soaring in Beijing about a similar citywide closure. Citing sporadic new Omicron infections, local authorities began three rounds of mass coronavirus testing this week for most of its 21 million people. Just a few days ago, a lockdown of Beijing, the nation’s political centre, seemed inconceivable for most people, especially in the run-up to the once-in-a-decade leadership reshuffle later this year. The capital city was different and the most tightly controlled in the country, China watchers argued, and its lockdown could carry political risks ahead of the Communist Party’s national congress , especially if the Shanghai-style chaos were to happen in Beijing. To be fair, the capital city has largely been insulated from the disease since it first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, with international flights diverted to other cities and tighter restrictions imposed on Beijing-bound travellers. But the Omicron variant has yet again proved to be omnipresent, with the situation in Shanghai, the country’s biggest port and commercial hub, showing little sign of easing despite the most stringent lockdown in decades. Now the fate of China’s capital has become the ultimate test for the country’s controversial zero-Covid policy, given the unprecedented domestic and international backlash against the draconian lockdowns. Despite its initial mishandling of the pandemic, China has fended off criticism and managed to largely contain the coronavirus in the first two years with travel curbs, lengthy quarantines, mass testing and blockades of cities and counties. While it is still too early to tell when and how the Omicron wave will end, it is plausible to assume that Chinese authorities will claim a victory anyway. But at what cost? With most of the world easing coronavirus restrictions, China’s inflexibility on zero-Covid lockdowns has only raised a lot more questions than answers about its rationale, its practicability, its socio-economic and political costs and the impact on global supply chains. The cost to China’s reputation as a global economic powerhouse has been most obvious. The prolonged lockdown of Shanghai has left many residents – including more than 170,000 expatriates – struggling with food shortages and limited access to emergency medical care. The difficulties of those expats, who are usually affluent and in a relatively privileged position, have made international headlines. It has become a fresh point of contention between China and major Western powers. Last week, American ambassador Nicholas Burns warned that the livelihoods of the 40,000 US nationals living in Shanghai were “our highest priority” on top of “many vital challenges” in bilateral ties. A week earlier, the State Department ordered an evacuation of non-emergency US government workers from Shanghai but, instead of showing empathy, China’s foreign ministry lashed out at Washington’s “groundless accusation” towards the lockdown measures. Covid-19 tests limits of Shanghai hospitals as very ill, elderly infected Japan’s top diplomat in Shanghai also appealed for help this month on behalf of the Japanese community, calling on local authorities to minimise business disruptions. The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China was blunter, voicing concerns about eroding business confidence in the country and calling for an immediate overhaul of the zero-Covid policy in a letter to Chinese Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua. According to an online poll by the That’s magazine this month, 85 per cent of about 1,000 Shanghai-based foreigners said they were considering leaving China, including 48 per cent who planned to do so in the next 12 months. Numerous surveys by foreign business chambers in recent weeks have also corroborated the growing exodus among expats due to worsening concerns about the seemingly endless lockdown. It is a lot more difficult, however, to put a price tag on the socio-economic cost of the coronavirus lockdowns, with the domestic impact much harder to determine in the absence of critical information and independent media investigations. And on top of the metal barriers authorities in Shanghai are installing to seal off residential buildings, the government’s secrecy over the Covid-19-related statistics and the ever-present censorship of criticism and grievances about the zero-tolerance policy has left needy residents even more isolated. One of the lessons from the Shanghai lockdowns is that China risks losing its remaining credibility for Covid-19 management both at home and abroad. Without transparency, accountability and enough checks and balances, it is not surprising that local cadres are incentivised to echo and double down on the perceived wishes of their leaders while turning a blind eye to widespread complaints. In a closed, highly centralised decision-making environment, Chinese leaders may have fallen victim to the echo chamber they have created to discourage policy debates and counterbalance domestic and external scepticism towards the country’s authoritarian shift.