China’s zero-Covid policy explained in 30 seconds

Rampant and sudden lockdowns have sparked anger as pressure piles on officials to curb outbreaks

Since the Covid pandemic began, China’s government has operated a zero-tolerance policy on outbreaks. The resource-intensive system of targeted lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine successfully kept the virus at bay and the death toll extraordinarily low compared with other countries. However, newer and more transmissible variants such as Omicron have challenged, and at times overwhelmed, that system.

This year there have been rampant lockdowns ranging from buildings to entire counties, prompting frustration, fear and anger. Some, such as those in Shanghai, Tibet and Xinjiang, have been enforced harshly, leading to food shortages and other deprivations.

Under the zero-Covid policy, local officials have been tasked with the near impossible: to control all outbreaks with minimal social and economic disruption. Officials face punishment if they are deemed to have failed in their response.

But health experts agree that to open up now would lead to millions of deaths. China has no herd immunity, its local vaccines are not as effective as the foreign-made ones Beijing refuses to approve, and its health system would probably crumble.

Recent policy tweaks have focused on improving the low rates of vaccination among the elderly. Vaccines were encouraged but never mandatory, and fear, scepticism, or complacency is thought to have driven refusals among millions of older people.

Zero-Covid measures have been linked to multiple tragedies including deaths caused by delayed or denied healthcare and suicides. A deadly building fire in Urumqui triggered a wave of protests against Covid restrictions as frustrations with the strict policy boiled over.

The government has remained committed to zero-Covid, a point emphasised by China’s leader Xi Jinping on his reappointment as Communist party chief last month.


Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
China’s rising power and influence in the Pacific explained in 30 seconds
Beijing and Washington are battling for influence in the strategically important Pacific region

Helen Sullivan

08, Mar, 2023 @11:57 PM

Article image
As China looks on at a world opening up, can Xi Jinping survive zero-Covid?
With 340m people living under lockdown or restrictions, the administration are sticking to their stance. But at what cost?

Helen Davidson in Taipei

29, Apr, 2022 @12:40 PM

Article image
Global Covid-19 deaths near 355,000 – as it happened
Qatar Covid-19 app ‘exposed 1m people’s personal details’; WHO sounds alarm over surge of Covid-19 cases in Latin America. This blog is now closed

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier); Damien Gayle, Caroline Davies, and Nick Ames

28, May, 2020 @12:02 AM

Article image
China approves Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine for general use
Rollout to begin ‘soon’ but about a million have already received injection under emergency approvals

Helen Davidson in Taipei

31, Dec, 2020 @3:52 AM

Article image
First known Covid case was Wuhan market vendor, says scientist
Claim will reignite debate about origins of pandemic, a continuing source of tension between US and China

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

19, Nov, 2021 @2:08 PM

Article image
Covid-19 spreads to every African country - as it happened
Disease now present in every African country as Spanish study reveals 5% of the population has antibodies

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier); Kevin Rawlinson, Damien Gayle, Caroline Davies and Simon Burnton

13, May, 2020 @11:31 PM

Article image
Covid-19 outbreak in Xinjiang spreads to second Chinese city
Twenty-two new cases reported day after ‘wartime’ measures introduced in Urumqi

Helen Davidson and agencies

20, Jul, 2020 @7:32 AM

Article image
Worldwide Covid-19 deaths pass 290,000 – as it happened
Spain to quarantine overseas travellers; Trump walks out of press conference; White House staff ordered to wear masks. This blog is now closed

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier); Kevin Rawlinson , Damien Gayle, and Jessica Murray

12, May, 2020 @11:33 PM

Article image
US Covid-19 death toll passes 75,000 – as it happened
Madrid health official resigns over plans to ease lockdown and Russia overtakes Germany and France after record rise in cases. This blog is now closed.

Jessica Murray Simon Murphy, Amy Walker (earlier) Nadeem Badshah (now)

07, May, 2020 @11:58 PM

Article image
Brazil sees record increase in Covid-19 cases – as it happened
Schools in Turkey to stay shut until end of May; Germans urged to stay home; Vietnam says it has had no domestic transmission for two weeks. This blog is now closed

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier); Kevin Rawlinson, Damien Gayle, Gregory Robinson and Aamna Mohdin (earlier)

29, Apr, 2020 @11:16 PM