The Downsides of China’s Zero-COVID Policy


Linda Zhang, Staff Writer

Given little time from the government to prepare for quarantine during the height of COVID-19, citizens in Shanghai were far from properly equipped for the lockdown that was supposedly going to last for a couple of days. As we know now, being in quarantine became the norm as the lockdown in Shanghai was extended from Feb. 28, 2022 to May 30, 2022.

China has one of the world’s strictest virus elimination regulations since they enacted the Zero-COVID Policy. The Zero-COVID Policy is a “control and maximum suppression” strategy, involving contact tracing, mass testing, and broader quarantine procedures to reduce the number of infected people down to zero. At the expense of the economy, China chose to adopt this policy because it had been proven to be effective in controlling the number of COVID-19 cases. However, due to the government’s inability to provide sufficient food, essential supplies, and medical care during quarantine, many citizens suffered and demanded an end to the lockdown. Although restrictions to help the nation recover and prevent COVID-19 should be enforced, such regulations should not make life unbearable for China’s citizens.

Leo Qin, a resident of Shanghai, stated, “One day, we were notified it was happening, and that very night, downstairs, yellow tapes blocked off the building and tents were set up for the Big Whites (nickname for volunteers wearing hazmat suits).”

To slow the spread of the virus, many subway stations, public parks, and roads were shut down in Shanghai. As a result, around 25 million people were trapped in their homes and could only go out for medical emergencies. Though people should reduce interaction with others to keep the COVID-19 cases down, Chinese citizens should still be allowed to go out and purchase the necessary items used in daily life. The freedom of the citizens should not be restricted to a point where they are unable to leave the premises of their homes because, after all, citizens weren’t given a choice but were simply told to obey the policies. Lacking the necessities in daily life due to the inability to go outside of their homes, Chinese citizens became restless and furious with the government.

Angered by the Zero-COVID Policy, many citizens in Shanghai started protesting by banging on their windows. Some even uploaded videos of children crying after being forced to separate with their parents who had tested positive for COVID-19. The COVID-19 crisis should be handled with the citizens and the government working collaboratively, rather than one making decisions on behalf of the majority. To elaborate, during the pandemic, citizens were already distressed about their health, family, and work, and thus, the government should have tried to help the citizens reduce such stress instead of increasing the public’s burden by enforcing strict policies. 

Dali Yang, another resident of Shanghai, claimed, “I thought the situation of starvation due to the lack of food and supplies wouldn’t happen in major cities like Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou, but the situation in Shanghai over the last few weeks proves that it is not too different from the rest of China.”

Not only was transportation shut down due to the Zero-COVID Policy, but big enterprises and small businesses were forced to close as well. In response, the economy suffered as it only grew 0.4% in the past few years, compared to the 7% growth in the years before the Zero-COVID Policy was enacted. Thus, it led to a major increase in unemployment. The unemployment rate was as high as 19.9%, and without any source of income, people were unable to pay for their rent, debt, and daily necessities. Moreover, retail sales were lowered by 11% while housing sales went up by 47%.  

The Zero-COVID Policy was pursued by many other countries as well, such as Australia, yet as time went on, the citizen’s tolerance for such strict regulations lessened. However, even with less cooperative citizens, China is still enforcing the policy because of the strong comparison that it serves, in terms of death rate, with countries that do not use the policy, such as the U.S. Thus, President Xi is expected to retain his paramount position at the Communist Party Congress, for the Zero-COVID Policy is a signature policy of his. 

The Zero-COVID Policy was arguably not the best way to deal with COVID-19 because, although the number of cases were reduced, the citizens suffered as a result. Even if the Zero-COVID Policy was for the benefit of the public, the citizens should have been able to have some sort of normalcy during such a traumatic time, and the government should have worked in conjunction with the public to conjure a solution that the majority could agree upon.


Photo Courtesy of UNSPLASH.COM