Zero-COVID’s Lasting Damage

A woman takes a COVID test in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China. (Photo credit should read CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

COVID-19 cases in China are surging, but so is public sentiment against President Xi Jinping’s strict pandemic restrictions. The public-health consequences could be dire. 

Following mass protests, Chinese officials this week ushered in a “new stage and mission” of China’s pandemic response. The government announced Wednesday that it was taking the first nationwide steps away from “zero-COVID,” which aimed to completely stop rather than mitigate the virus’ spread. The country’s goal now would be to “return to the state before the epidemic,” Chinese epidemiologist Liang Wannian said on state-run television, “but the realization of the goal must have conditions.”

The new approach scraps the negative test requirement for domestic travel and most public venues with the exception of schools, medical facilities, and nursing homes. It also allows individuals with asymptomatic or mild cases to isolate at home rather than quarantine facilities, reduces the length of required isolation for their close contacts, and puts limits on the time and scope of mass lockdowns for areas considered “high-risk.” Authorities previously could designate entire residential complexes, communities, and localities for lockdown. 

Beijing’s decision to ease nationwide restrictions and similar local-level changes mark a partial victory for the thousands of demonstrators who took to China’s streets demanding an end to zero-COVID. The policy—which enjoyed relative public compliance for three years—used intrusive and disruptive practices like mobile tracking, regular testing, and forced centralized quarantine to limit COVID cases. 

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