China is caught in a zero-Covid trap of its own making | CNN (2022)

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.

Hong Kong CNN

It’s been little more than a week since Chinese leader Xi Jinping began his norm-breaking third term in power with a ringing endorsement of his relentless zero-Covid policy.

But the commitment to stick with it is already fueling scenes of chaos and misery across the country.

In the northwestern city of Xining, residents spent last week pleading desperately for food as they suffered through the latest of the country’s stringent lockdowns; to the west, in Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet, angry crowds have been protesting in the streets after more than 70 days of stay-home orders.

In the central province of Henan, migrant workers have abandoned a locked-down Foxconn factory en masse, walking for miles to escape an outbreak at China’s largest iPhone assembling site. And, in the eastern financial hub of Shanghai, things are gloomy even at Disneyland – the park abruptly shut its gates on Monday to comply with Covid prevention measures, trapping visitors inside for compulsory testing.

In many other parts of the country, lockdowns, mandatory quarantines, incessant mass testing edicts and travel restrictions continue to cripple businesses and daily life, even as the rest of the world moves on from the pandemic.

Renewed zeal

Rather than relax Covid restrictions – as some had hoped for in the lead-up to the Communist Party’s five-yearly leadership reshuffle, Chinese authorities have ramped them up after Xi’s sweeping endorsement of the strategy.

“The 20th Party Congress didn’t provide a timetable for moving away from zero-Covid. Instead it highlighted the importance of sticking to the existing approach,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

A man passes by a compound of the electronics manufacturer Foxconn, which is under strict access control to prevent Covid-19, in Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong province Saturday, Sept. 03, 2022. AH CHI/ Feature China/Getty Images Workers flee China's biggest iPhone factory over Covid outbreak

The congress reinforced Xi as an unrivaled supreme leader, and saw him stack the Communist Party’s top ranks with staunch allies – including those who had loyally carried out his Covid policies.

“The new political ecology also provided more incentive for local governments to impose more draconian Covid control measures,” Huang said.

A renewed zeal for the policy can be seen most clearly in smaller cities. While metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai can draw on their experiences of major flareups to implement more targeted lockdown measures, smaller cities with no such know-how tend to pursue zero-Covid goals in a more aggressive and extensive manner, Huang said.

(Video) Thousands stuck inside Shanghai Disney Resort after snap Covid lockdown

‘It’s simply not working’

The repeating cycle of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing is taking a heavy toll on the economy and society. Public patience is wearing thin, and frustrations are building.

On Monday in Baoding city, Hebei province, a father wielding a knife drove through a Covid checkpoint in a desperate bid to buy milk powder for his son. Video footage of the scene and his subsequent arrest sparked uproar online; the following day local police tried to soothe tempers by saying the man had been fined only 100 yuan ($13.75) and that his child’s “milk powder problem” had been “properly resolved.”

On Tuesday, the death of a 3-year-old in Lanzhou, Gansu province, sparked another outcry, after the child’s family said lockdown measures had delayed emergency responders. Police said later the child had stopped breathing by the time officers arrived, but did not address the family’s accusations that an ambulance had been delayed. CNN has reached out to Lanzhou authorities for comment.

In another sign of how sensitive the issue has become, Chinese stocks rallied on Wednesday following unverified social media rumors that China was forming a committee to prepare an exit from the zero-Covid policy.

Those rumors were quashed, however, when the Foreign Ministry said it was “unaware” of any such plan.

Art student in US dons dozens of hazmat suits to process trauma of China's zero-Covid lockdowns Yong Xiong/CNN Chinese artist speaks out against zero-Covid policy by wearing 27 hazmat suits in Times Square

Meanwhile, experts say they see no signs of the Chinese government taking steps that would suggest it is rethinking its approach.

Chinese health officials maintain that changing tack now would risk a huge surge in infections and deaths that could overwhelm the country’s fragile health care system.

Beijing has so far refused to approve for use the mRNA vaccines developed in Western countries, which have been shown to be more potent than those made and used in China. Experts say China also lacks an emergency response plan to cope with surging infections.

(Video) China reinforces relentless "zero-COVID" policy despite rising cases, economic issues

But Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said such catastrophic scenarios could be avoided with proper preparation.

Instead of spending vast amounts of time and resources on testing, contact tracing, quarantining and imposing lockdowns, authorities should introduce more effective vaccines and antiviral therapies and boost the vaccination rate among the elderly, Jin said.

With boosted immunity, asymptomatic or mild cases could be allowed to recover at home – freeing up space at hospitals to treat more severe cases, he said.

“Using lockdown and containment measures to deal with an infectious disease with such a low mortality rate and high transmissibility is no longer appropriate. The whole world has abandoned this approach – nobody can stand the cost, it’s simply not working,” he said.

Fear of the virus

Another hurdle to pivoting from zero-Covid is a pervasive fear of the virus among large swaths of the public, instilled by the Chinese government to justify its harsh control measures, experts say.

“Authorities have demonized Covid, exaggerating its severity and mortality rate and talking up long-Covid symptoms. Many ordinary people are still very afraid of the virus, with recovered Covid patients suffering from severe discrimination and stigmatization,” Jin said.

It was partly such fears that drove thousands of migrant workers to flee in panic from the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, he said.

Epidemic prevention personnel disinfect an area for nucleic acid sampling in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China, Sept 15, 2022. CFOTO/Future Publishing/Getty Images Under Xi Jinping, zero-Covid is accelerating China's surveillance state

Videos of people traveling on foot, dragging their luggage on roads and across fields, went viral on Chinese social media over the weekend. Zhengzhou, a city of 12 million, imposed sweeping lockdown measures last month after identifying dozens of Covid-19 cases.

(Video) 'That's not water': Scenes from China's Covid response illustrate brutal heat

The Foxconn facility has been racing to control an outbreak since mid-October, though the company has not disclosed the number of infections among its workers. On Wednesday, the Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone, where the Foxconn plant is located, announced new lockdown measures.

As the Foxconn exodus thrust the Zhengzhou outbreak into the spotlight, the city’s health authorities have tried to allay public fears. On Monday, the Zhengzhou municipal health commission published a WeChat article with the headline: “Covid is not that horrible, but preventable and treatable.”

Huang, the expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said misconceptions about the virus would complicate matters if China did at some point decide to move away from zero Covid.

“Even if in the future, China wants to change the narrative and play down the seriousness of the disease, some people might not buy into the new narrative,” he said.

As the winter approaches, experts warn that China could be hit by a new wave of infections – and a new cycle of draconian lockdowns.

China reported 2,755 local infections for Tuesday, the highest daily tally since August.

“Judging from the situation in China, there will be a major outbreak sooner or later. China has deployed tremendous efforts and paid a heavy cost to prevent that from happening, but in the end, it won’t be able to stop such a highly infectious disease from spreading,” Jin said.

CNN’s Beijing bureau and Yong Xiong contributed reporting.


What is the purpose of zero Covid? ›

The goal of the strategy of control and maximum suppression (Zero-Covid) is to reduce virus transmission to near-zero levels and ultimately eliminate the virus within a specified geographic region. "Zero-Covid" means effective control of limited cases and zero transmission, that is, zero uncontrolled cases.2...

Which country caused the Covid 19? ›

The novel virus was first identified from an outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Attempts to contain failed, allowing the virus to spread to other areas of Asia and later worldwide.

Is Covid a necessary evil? ›

It suggests that the emergence of COVID-19 has been proved to a necessary evil as being advantageous for mitigating air pollution on Indian territory during the lock-down. The study found a significant decline in Nitrogen Dioxide in reputed states of India, i.e., Delhi and Mumbai.

Why is the Covid booster so important? ›

Boosters improve your protection against serious illness or death from COVID-19 infection. They are safe and recommended for most people, including children. Updated boosters help restore protection that has decreased since your previous vaccination and provide better protection against newer variants.

What country suffer the most from Covid? ›

When we took an initial look at total COVID-19 deaths, our Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast showed that the countries with the largest epidemics since February 2020 include India, the United States, Brazil, Russia, and Mexico.

How long does Covid last in your body? ›

Most people with COVID-19 get better within a few days to a few weeks after infection, so at least four weeks after infection is the start of when post-COVID conditions could first be identified. Anyone who was infected can experience post-COVID conditions.

Which country has the most number of COVID-19? ›

Countries where COVID-19 has spread
United States99,607,844North America
118 more rows

Do I need the Covid antiviral? ›

The antiviral pills are not recommended for everyone who tests positive for COVID. The pills are intended for those who have symptoms from COVID-19 and who are not in the hospital, but who are more likely to become seriously ill.

Is coronavirus a wicked problem? ›

In this light, the Coronavirus Crisis must be considered a wicked problem (e.g., Moon, 2020) as it is not just a global health crisis anymore but is slowly turning into an economic and social crisis, too (see also Pourdehnad et al., 2020).

How did the Covid change the world? ›

COVID-19 is altering the lives of children – especially the most impoverished – to a catastrophic extent. Children already left behind will likely bear the brunt of the pandemic's impact, whether through missing out on life-saving vaccinations, increased risk of violence, or interrupted education.

Can you get Covid twice? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

How long do Covid vaccines last? ›

We don't know how long protection lasts for those who are vaccinated. What we do know is that COVID-19 has caused very serious illness and death for a lot of people.

How long is Omicron contagious for? ›

We know that people tend to be most infectious early in the course of their infection. With Omicron, most transmission occurs during the one to two days before onset of symptoms, and in the two to three days afterwards.

Can you get Covid 3 times? ›

In fact, with the highly infectious omicron variant in circulation, it's becoming less unusual to have COVID-19 three times — or even four.

Which country is not affected by COVID-19? ›

North Korea, the largest nation to report zero cases, with a population of 25 million, has instituted a strict lockdown, travel restrictions, and closed its borders, according to The Associated Press.

Is Covid increasing in India? ›

Corona Virus (COVID-19) Latest Updates. India reported 3,947 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours, against 4,272 reported on the previous day, said the Union Health Ministry on Friday. In the same period, the country recorded 18 more deaths, taking the national Covid death toll to 5,28,629 as per the report.

Do dogs get COVID? ›

The virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from people to animals during close contact. Pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. The risk of pets spreading COVID-19 to people is low.

Can you get COVID if someone in your house has it? ›

Because coronavirus is transmitted through close contact with someone who is infected, it's common for the virus to spread within homes. But a positive diagnosis for one person doesn't always mean others will be infected.

How long does COVID last on blankets? ›

A study published in found that at room temperature, COVID-19 was detectable on fabric for up to two days, compared to seven days for plastic and metal. However, when it was exposed to high heat, the virus became inactive within five minutes.

Which countries are doing best with Covid? ›

Best Countries Rankings
  • #1. Switzerland.
  • #2. Germany.
  • #3. Canada.
  • #4. United States.
  • #5. Sweden.
11 Aug 2022

How many people are in the world? ›

There are 195 countries in the world today. This total comprises 193 countries that are member states of the United Nations and 2 countries that are non-member observer states: the Holy See and the State of Palestine.
List of countries.
CountryHoly See
Population (2020)801
World Share0 %
Land Area (Km²)0
92 more columns

When did coronavirus begin? ›

January 10, 2020

WHO announces that the outbreak in Wuhan, China is caused by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). CDC publishes information about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) on its website.

What is the dynamic zero Covid strategy? ›

The “Dynamic COVID-zero” strategy is a transitional strategy to be adopted after a successful containment strategy, when the population immunity barrier is not yet established in the face of continued risk of foreign importation and high transmission of variants.

Why do people with Covid have low oxygen? ›

Using a computational lung model, Herrmann, Suki, and their team tested that theory, revealing that for blood oxygen levels to drop to the levels observed in COVID-19 patients, blood flow would indeed have to be much higher than normal in areas of the lungs that can no longer gather oxygen—contributing to low levels of ...

What is the key to prevent COVID-19? ›

Wash your hands often, especially before and after eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom/ toilets/latrines and whenever your hands are visibly dirty. If soap Page 9 8 and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

How long does long Covid last? ›

Healthcare professionals may refer to long COVID as: ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 (4 to 12 weeks) post-COVID-19 syndrome (over 12 weeks)

What's the best way to battle Covid? ›

Protecting yourself while caring for someone with COVID-19
  1. Keep your hands clean and away from your face. Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds. ...
  2. Wear a face mask. ...
  3. Clean your home often. ...
  4. Avoid direct contact with the sick person's fluids. ...
  5. Avoid having visitors in your home.

What do you think is the most effective solution to avoid COVID-19 and why? ›

Physical distancing, masks, vaccines , and other preventive measures. Getting vaccinated and boosted is the best way to reduce your risk of symptoms, especially becoming severely ill, if you get COVID-19.

What is the zero strategy? ›

The goal of the Zero RB strategy is to avoid running backs until at least round five. That means you are probably taking three or four wide receivers. You will add in either a quarterback or a tight end.

How do I know if my lungs are infected with Covid? ›

Common symptoms of COVID-19 respiratory infections in the airways and lungs may include severe cough that produces mucous, shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheezing when you exhale.

What is a good oxygen level for a 70 year old man? ›

What Is the Normal Oxygen Level for the Elderly? The normal oxygen saturation level is from 97 to 100%. Older adults usually have lower levels of oxygen levels as compared to younger adults. If a person is older than 70, a normal oxygen level could be around 95% instead.

Can you get Covid twice? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

How do I not get Covid from my family? ›

How to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in your home
  1. try to stay away from other people you live with.
  2. spend as little time as possible in spaces you share with other people (such as living rooms and kitchens)

Can cats catch Covid? ›

The virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from people to animals during close contact. Pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. The risk of pets spreading COVID-19 to people is low.

Can you have long COVID and not know it? ›

While most people with post-COVID conditions have evidence of infection or COVID-19 illness, in some cases, a person with post-COVID conditions may not have tested positive for the virus or known they were infected.

How do you stop long COVID? ›

Tips for managing long Covid symptoms
  1. Pace yourself - plan what you're going to do and don't over-exert yourself.
  2. Try to break tasks which feel difficult down into smaller chunks, and alternate easier and harder activities.
  3. Consider the best time of the day to do certain activities based on your energy levels.
14 Oct 2022

What organs are affected by COVID? ›

Organ damage could play a role. People who had severe illness with COVID-19 might experience organ damage affecting the heart, kidneys, skin and brain. Inflammation and problems with the immune system can also happen.


1. 'A bit of survivor's guilt': Reporter escapes China's lockdown
2. China Struggles to Contain Frustration From Shanghai Covid Lockdown | WSJ
(Wall Street Journal)
3. China's zero-COVID struggle and a vaccine to protect us from all variants | The Virus | ABC News
(ABC News In-depth)
4. Frustration and anger among Shanghai residents as China doubles down on zero-COVID policy
(PBS NewsHour)
5. China Covid Chaos: Shanghai government bars people from entering and exiting Disney park | WION
6. China: Shoppers flee as health authorities attempt to lock down IKEA amid zero-Covid policy
(The Telegraph)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Twana Towne Ret

Last Updated: 10/13/2022

Views: 6601

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (44 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Twana Towne Ret

Birthday: 1994-03-19

Address: Apt. 990 97439 Corwin Motorway, Port Eliseoburgh, NM 99144-2618

Phone: +5958753152963

Job: National Specialist

Hobby: Kayaking, Photography, Skydiving, Embroidery, Leather crafting, Orienteering, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Twana Towne Ret, I am a famous, talented, joyous, perfect, powerful, inquisitive, lovely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.