China opens its borders, and welcomes visitors again, starting January 8. The only remaining Covid-era requirement will be to show a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours. That’s a wrap on Zero Covid, even for foreigners who were often blamed by China even though the virus almost certainly originated in or near Wuhan.
The country no longer pursues zero Covid, they just pursue a policy of no longer reporting most Covid cases. In some sense that isn’t all that different from most other countries, except for the magnitude of virus spread there right now as Covid-19 rips across a largely immunologically naive population. Why the change, and why now?
Covid spread was inevitable once extreme controls were lifted, and with the incredible infectiousness of current variants to some extent even with those controls still in place – draconian lockdowns with people going hungry, government quarantine facilities, and even an apartment building that burned with residents trapped inside. Protests were rampant – and so the government both clamped down on the protests while mollifying them.
WATCH: Protests are breaking out across China from Beijing to other major cities in the country over Covid lockdowns
— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) November 27, 2022
On Nov 23, when a fire broke out in #Urumqi , people’s doors were locked from outside. Fire truck couldn’t get closer either( see my previous tweet). The latest figure says 44 were burnt to death, including a 3 y/o kid. That’s one of the reasons for today’s protests. pic.twitter.com/s4E0JHk4wQ
— Inconvenient Truths by Jennifer Zeng 曾錚真言 (@jenniferzeng97) November 25, 2022
Viruses spread. Early in the pandemic it made sense to delay that spread. The U.S. didn’t use the time from lockdowns and travel restrictions well, except in biomedicine. China wasn’t benefiting from delay – it wasn’t a bridge to treatments and vaccines, or buying time to prepare hospitals – but it was still enduring significant costs.
Another way to ask the question is, why did the policy last so long? Mass virus spread, policy failure, inability to protect the citizenry would have undermined President Xi’s cause for an unprecedented third term at the Twentieth Congress. Once that had been achieved, Zero Covid served no real purpose.
Elites in China likely stopped believing in Zero Covid long before protests had spread, but couldn’t speak to it. It wasn’t possible to prepare for an alternate policy, because doing so would have expressed lack of confidence in official policy. Lifting restrictions meant a vacuum of alternatives. Now, after three years of extreme measures, the leadership appears to feel a need to get the pain over as quickly as possible.