What is the Zero COVID Policy implemented by China?
Although pandemic measures have been largely lifted around the globe, China continues to administer a strict COVID-19 containment policy nearly three years into the pandemic. Despite the growing public anger and widespread protests, China’s zero-COVID policy remains largely intact. Involving lockdowns, mass testing, mandatory quarantine, and travel restrictions, the zero-COVID policy implemented by China is currently among the most drastic and controversial containment measures applied in the world. Read along to learn more about the Zero-COVID policy of China, its impact on daily life, along with the response of the public and the world.
How does the Zero COVID Policy of China Work?
Chinese officials report that although the inevitability of domestic outbreaks is acknowledged, the zero-COVID policy of China is designed to “dynamically” take action against upsurges in infected cases. The measures geared towards prevention involve early detection through regular PCR tests, and a negative result is often mandatory to enter a business or public facility. Moreover, potential or suspected cases are isolated at home or within government-supervised quarantine facilities. In fact, isolation may be mandatory even for distant or potential contacts of an infected case. Control measures also include lock-down of buildings, communities, and even entire cities. In terms of restrictions on internal and international travel, China’s borders have remained largely closed to most international visitors since March 2020. All international visitors have also been subject to seven days of quarantine at a government-supervised facility followed by three days of isolation at home.
How does the Zero COVID Policy of China Impact Daily Life?
With the implementation of these harsh measures, the daily lives of the people in China have been heavily affected. The surveillance system implemented in the country requires the procession of each person’s PCR test result and travel history, which is tracked via mobile phone signals, into government databases. In order to have free access to public transportation and facilities, citizens must keep a “normal” COVID-19 profile characterized by continuous negative test results, no contact with infected people, and a lack of visits to risky places. An abnormal profile, on the other hand, may not only block access to public facilities and transit but also require home isolation for days, which is often checked with electronic seals attached to doors.
Further, a single case can lead to the lockdown of a building or residential compound and last for months. In fact, lockdowns have been executed on city-level, province-level, and region-level scales in many cities across China such as Shanghai, Xian, Chengdu, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Jilin. Indeed, entire cities, provinces, or even regions can be locked down with hours of notice, and visits to other cities or provinces may require quarantine on arrival.
What was the public response to the Zero COVID Policy of China?
There have been growing signs in recent months that the public has been largely frustrated with the zero-Covid policies in the country. The public frustration with the zero-COVID policy in China has recently culminated in a series of widespread protests. The protests were initially triggered by a deadly fire on November 24 in Urumqi, which killed at least ten people and injured nine in an apartment building. The recordings of the incident have fueled public protests as they appeared to illustrate how lockdown measures have delayed firefighters from reaching the victims. The protests have quickly spread beyond Xinjiang. As of December 26, 23 demonstrations have taken place across 17 Chinese cities, including the country’s capital Beijing and financial center Shanghai.
How has the world responded to the Zero COVID Policy of China?
Various demonstrations, foreign officials, and organizations have expressed solidarity with the protests in China. Demonstrations held in support of the protests in China have taken place in various countries around the world including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Malaysia. Moreover, in discussion with Chinese experts, The World Health Organization (WHO) has commented that the zero-COVID policy of China is not a sustainable approach to the pandemic and that its impact on human rights has to be taken into consideration alongside its economic impact.
Still, many experts around the world suggest that ending the strategy altogether could invite a public health crisis as prolonged focus on containment may have not only inhibited the population’s herd immunity but also kept the country from increasing the vaccination rates among the older population and investing in healthcare infrastructure. Indeed, experts emphasize that while around 90% of the population in the country has been vaccinated, the reliance on vaccines with lower efficacy in preventing severe disease remains concerning for groups at-risk. Especially within the older population, vaccine hesitancy remains significant. In fact, only around 65% of people aged 80 and above have been fully vaccinated, and only around 40% have received a booster shot.
Will China ease its Zero COVID Policy Soon?
It remains unclear if, when, or how China will ease its COVID-19 containment policies. However, several major cities have begun to loosen some pandemic measures despite the upsurge in infected cases. For instance, it has recently been reported that Beijing, Chongqing, and Guangzhou could relax some mass-testing requirements and allow some close contacts of infected people to quarantine at home. While it is currently unknown whether these policy changes would be applied across the country, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan has recently reported that the country is facing a “new reality” with the circulation of less deadly Omicron variant, expansion in vaccine coverage, and increase in healthcare preparedness. Chinese health officials have also reported that the delivery of vaccines and booster doses to the senior population would be prioritized.
These developments have fueled hopes that the strictest aspects of the zero-COVID policy including sudden lockdowns, mass testing, and mandatory centralized quarantine for close contacts could be relaxed in the near future. However, analysts argue that China may be adopting a two-track approach by relaxing some containment measures to appease public grievances and using censorship and force to prevent the escalation of the protests.