- Protests have erupted over China’s strict “zero COVID” policy in recent days.
- The rigorous public health approach aims not only to suppress the virus, but to eradicate it completely.
- Tens of millions of people in China have been stranded for more than two years since the pandemic began.
Mass protests have erupted across China, spurred in large part by the country’s COVID-19 policies, which have persisted for more than two years.
The demonstrations from Beijing to Shanghai in recent days have come in response to China’s “zero-COVID” policy, which employs strict rules and regulations that are intended to not only contain the virus but also eradicate it completely from the country.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has long defended the “zero-COVID” policy as “putting people first,” and in the early days, the approach seemed to work: Cases remained low; outbreaks were dealt with quickly via contact tracing and quarantine, and strict lockdowns kept deaths at bay. But tensions began to boil over as restrictions remained in place even as the rest of the world appeared to relax.
Severe lockdowns continued in the country even after the Communist government announced a series of slightly eased restrictions in early November.
Tensions finally flared last week after an apartment fire on Thursday that killed at least 10 people in Urumqi city, where many residents have been under severe lockdowns for months, sparked public questions over whether the closed doors and other public health restrictions have blocked firefighters from entering or victims from escaping.
As authorities continue to impose lockdowns and testing requirements amid a significant increase in cases and epidemics, protesters take to the streets demanding an end to China’s “zero-COVID” policy.
What is China’s “zero-COVID” policy?
The country has implemented one of the strictest public health policies in the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions of Chinese currently living under some form of lockdown.
According to news reports, according to the updated policy:
- Local authorities are required to impose strict lockdowns, even in areas where only a small number of COVID cases are detected
- Businesses and schools are closed in places that are locked down
- Lockdowns persist until new infections are reported in a location
- People who test positive for COVID are forced to isolate themselves at home or are housed in government quarantine facilities, often a hotel
- Entire residential buildings were placed under physical quarantine in major cities earlier this year, though photos and reports
- Massive and frequent testing is being conducted in areas with positive case counts, as well as in large cities
- Arriving travelers are required to quarantine for five days at a government quarantine facility and three days at home
- ‘Close contacts’ of a person who tests positive must isolate themselves for five days in a government facility and three days at home
- Major business travelers and sports groups are not permitted to leave their “CCTV bubbles” during their stay
How can it be in practice
The drastic measures have led to desperation and extremism in some cases, including reports of local authorities forcing workers to live and sleep in factories so they can continue working during the quarantine.
Meanwhile, workers at an iPhone factory in Zhengzhou in November and shoppers at a Shanghai Ikea store in August staged mass breakouts for fear of being trapped inside, according to BBC News.
Earlier this month, the father of a 3-year-old boy in Lanzhou said his son died of carbon monoxide poisoning after officials monitoring the family’s housing compound as part of China’s COVID rules did not they sought medical assistance.
China’s approach has drawn criticism from experts outside the country, including Dr Anthony Fauci, who told CNN this week that the shutdowns “should always be a temporary phenomenon” and “not a long-term strategy.” term”. But low vaccination rates and less effective Chinese-made injections mean the country’s natural immunity remains lower than that of much of the developed world.
Authorities continue to crack down on rare protests this week, which, while spurred by the country’s “zero-COVID” policy, have widened to include frustration with China’s political crackdown and even some calls for Xi Jinping to resign.
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