China Boils Over Zero-Covid Policy

The strict COVID-19 containment policy of China has caused a rise in economic damage and widespread frustration while keeping its borders shut for most international travel.

Thousands of people from major cities and universities in China are on the streets to protest against the authorities demanding freedom from incessant Covid tests and lockdowns, strict censorship, and the Communist Party’s tightening grip over all aspects of life.

The protesters are also demanding Chinese President Xi Jinping’s resignation. Across the country, “want freedom” has become a slogan for a groundswell of protests which is mainly led by the younger generation. China has still not described when or how it will begin to exit from its “dynamic zero” approach.

Here Are Some Key Facts About China’s Zero-COVID Policy

WHAT IS Dynamic-Zero?

China recognises domestic outbreaks are inevitable. Dynamic-zero is two-pronged – prevention and containment. This year China has intensified both aspects due to the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant across China.

Prevention focuses on early detection through regular PCR tests, especially in cities. Potential or suspected cases are isolated at home or placed under quarantine at a government-supervised facility. Those deemed in close contact with infected people must quarantine, and even distant or potential contact can result in an order to stay home.

Control tactics are aimed at swiftly cutting off transmission chains to prevent outbreaks. These tactics involve quarantining cases at government-supervised facilities and locking down buildings, communities, or even entire cities. China’s policies are not geared towards having zero cases at all times but instead, are about “dynamically” taking action when cases surface.

How Daily Life Is Affected?

The PCR results of every person are electronically logged on government databases, as well as one’s travel history, which is tracked by mobile phone signals.

People must keep a “normal” COVID profile with continual negative test results. People should not have any contact with infected people and they must not visit places that are too risky. Profiles are maintained on the mobile phone “health kits”. An abnormal Covid profile means no access to public venues and mass transit, and can even require home quarantine for days with electronic seals attached to doors to enforce isolation.

Profiles can turn abnormal without any warning. It is indicated by a change in colour or the dreaded appearance of a pop-up window. For instance, if a person was at a mall visited by someone who was infected or if one was in contact with a close connection.

Sometimes profiles become abnormal even if all the requirements are met. Visits to other cities or provinces may require quarantine on arrival.

WHAT IS A LOCKDOWN & How Does It Gets Triggered?

Lockdowns can be sudden. It can be at the building level or much broader. The Lockdown of a building or any residential compound can be triggered by a single case. It means people cannot leave. Some lockdowns have even lasted for months.

Entire cities can be locked down with only hours of notice. Big cities that have been shut down more than once, include Shanghai, Xian, Chengdu, Tianjin, Shenzhen, and even entire provinces and regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet, and Jilin.

Is Coexisting With Covid An Option?

China argues that its policy saves lives. The Chinese authorities acknowledge Omicron is far less likely to cause serious health issues but say its high transmissibility 

High transmissibility means large outbreaks would lead to a run on medical resources and expose vulnerable groups including elderly people. Chinese health authorities predicted last month that for every 100,000 infections there would be at least 100 deaths.

WHAT ABOUT Covid Vaccines & Vaccination Drive?

China has so far not approved any foreign vaccines or any domestically made shots based on mRNA technology. The authorities have also not focused much on increasing the pace of vaccination this year, compared with a big vaccination campaign in 2021.

As of Tuesday, 3.44 billion doses had been administered in China and over 90% of China’s population was fully vaccinated, as reported by Reuters. But only around 60% of the general population has received booster shots. About 80% of those aged 60 and above have had additional doses, Reuters reports.

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