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The toll of China’s Zero-COVID policy

By Kyan Wang Feb. 15, 2023

Jude Tantawy Art

China’s zero-COVID policy, which sought to aggressively eliminate COVID-19, has finally ended. The controversial program saw the complete lockdowns of cities, with the government going to extreme measures to prevent spreading the virus, such as sealing apartment doors shut and providing food delivery services in locked-down cities. Although the policy kept cases at much lower levels—with only about 1,000 daily reported cases daily in the country throughout much of 2022 compared to the United States’ 10,000 or more daily cases—it came at the toll of public discontent as cooped up citizens became restless and tired of the seemingly incessant lockdowns. According to the South China Morning Post, despite initial support among the Chinese public for zero-COVID, economic and social frustrations caused many to turn against the policy.

Citizens, particularly in Shanghai, Beijing and Wuhan, took to the streets and gathered in city centers to protest zero-COVID in late 2022. One particular catalyst for the protests was the death of 10 people in a Xinjiang province apartment complex fire, in which protestors blamed the excessively harsh quarantine measures enacted by the government for preventing people from escaping the building. One man, Peng Lifa, has been credited by The Telegraph as an instigator of the protests. He hung banners over a busy highway overpass dissenting to the Chinese government with slogans that were used as rallying cries by zero-COVID protestors, spurring their quick growth despite suppression by the Chinese government.

However, the abrupt end of the policy in Dec. 2022 led to mass infections, with Peking University estimating that 64% of the population, or 900 million people, had been infected since zero-COVID was lifted. These numbers were heavily underreported by the Chinese government—PBS states that while under 10,000 cases were reported daily nationwide, Zhejiang province officials said that there were over 1 million new cases in the province alone. The massive influx of COVID-19 cases in China are possibly attributed to lack of exposure to previous variants of COVID-19 as well as the lower efficacy of Chinese inactivated-virus vaccines against the Omicron variant, the primary strain in the country.

“Stopping all measures abruptly was an ineffective way to handle the situation. The best method for the Chinese government would have been to relax restrictions over an extended period of time, rather than all at once,” Freshman Dominic Wang said.

Since the end of the zero-COVID policy, the Chinese border has reopened to international travel and travelers are flocking en masse to foreign nations. Additionally, the Associated Press predicts that the reopening of the China-Hong Kong border will increase tourism and retail in the semi-autonomous state. However, The Wall Street Journal finds that many countries, such as the U.S. and Australia, have enacted COVID-19 testing requirements for Chinese travelers due to a perceived lack of government transparency in reported cases.

“My Chinese cousin contracted COVID-19 a few weeks ago, right after the end of zero-COVID protocols. The high population density of the country’s cities was definitely a major factor in the spread of COVID,” Sophomore Wei Wang said.

According to CNN, COVID-19 testing booths, health code scanning signs and lockdown barriers across China were rapidly removed following the announcement of the cancellation of zero-COVID, and a virus-tracking app ceased operations. The Chinese government has paused reporting daily deaths and cases altogether, although previous methods used to report COVID-19 deaths were characterized as misleading, as Reuters reports that only deaths directly caused by COVID-19 were included in the official tally; those with pre-existing conditions who died while infected with COVID-19 were not.

Jude Tantawy Art

On the other hand, other countries adopted different stances towards COVID-19 control in the past three years. For example, Sweden employed a more hands-off approach, opting to forgo extreme control measures and instead attempting to achieve social distancing via public safety guidelines, in stark contrast to the authoritarian methods of China and other East Asian countries. However, the smaller population size and density of countries such as Sweden may have contributed to their decision to adopt a more passive COVID-19 policy. Although the pandemic phase of COVID-19 may be over in the public’s eyes, its persistence reveals the dangers of extreme lockdown measures.


About the Contributors

Kyan Wang

staff writer

Kyan Wang is a sophomore at Leland High School and the Tech Columnist and staff writer for The Charger Account. In his free time, he enjoys wasting away on his computer and running.

Jude Tantawy


Jude Tantawy is a junior at Leland High School and an artist for the Charger Account. During her free time she enjoys drawing, painting, photography, cooking, baking and video games.

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