China’s Zero-Covid Policy: A Regressive Chapter in China’s History

By Daniela Morales, 10th Grade

On November 15, protesters in the Chinese city of Guangzhou went to the streets and engaged in violent clashes with police and healthcare authorities after the city was put into lockdown. This is not the first time people have protested because of the Zero-Covid policy in China, and it most likely won’t be the last. A vast amount of workers have to put their lives on pause whenever there’s a lockdown, they are not able to work which means that they can’t get paid, thus their other necessities (such as food) are compromised for the time of the lockdown (McDonell, 2022). The socioeconomic detriment caused by the Zero-Covid policy is not only visible in Guangzhou but in the rest of China. 

If you’re unfamiliar with what the Zero-Covid policy is, let me give you some context. The Zero-Covid policy is not just one but the many methods the Chinese government has considered effective at managing the transmission of Covid-19. These methods include obligatory PCR testing of citizens, mandatory quarantine for the few tourists that are able to visit China (flights to China have been limited), needing a negative PCR test to enter a building, and lockdowns of entire cities (Reuters, 2022). The extreme nature of the measures is what makes them so destructive. For example, in September of this year, the authorities of a county in Jiangsu, a Chinese province, put a million citizens under lockdown because of a single PCR test that had some irregularities (Taipei, 2022). 

The Chinese government’s justification for such imposing measures is essential that they don’t have the tools to handle the pandemic in any other way. For most of China’s senior population, a shocking 86% are not vaccinated. Those that are vaccinated, however, are still vulnerable because of the dubious quality of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. The Sinovac vaccine is known by healthcare experts to produce fewer antibodies than other vaccines, such as Pfizer (Mallapaty, 2021). This is not speculation, as China’s own top disease control official said in a speech on April 2021 that “current vaccines offer low protection against the coronavirus” (McDonald and Wu, 2021). A little more than a year later, their effectiveness still hasn’t reached the potential it should have, and China hasn’t approved mRNA vaccines done by other countries. 

If we put ourselves in the shoes of China’s government in 2019 when an unknown pandemic began in Wuhan and caused an estimated 46,800 deaths between 2019 and 2020, then maybe we could understand where the strict policy comes from. However, it’s not 2019 anymore, and Xi Jin Ping’s authoritarianism is not a recent development. Xi Jin Ping, China’s president, has boldly shown that he does not care about how the Zero-Covid policy harms people and instead has tried to paint it as a life-saving product of his administration. He describes the Zero-Covid policy as a “people’s war to stop the spread of the virus” (Merkley, 2022). Instead, what we see is more of a people’s fight against the government because their human rights are being actively compromised. 

Out of the many lockdowns, the best example when talking about human rights abuses from the Zero-Covid policy would be Shanghai. In March of this year, the 25 million people that live in Shanghai had to endure a lockdown for two months. During the span of this month, numerous human rights abuses were reported (Taipei, 2022). A report by HRW (Human Rights Watch) reported the following: media censorship of citizen’s complaints about the lockdowns, sick people without COVID being denied medical treatment, COVID-positive children taken to facilities away from their parents until they tested negative, and patients with COVID being left with their medical needs unmet. What a great way to treat the people “fighting the war against the virus”. 

Human Rights Abuses are not expected to be of much significance to an authoritarian regime like the one Xi is leading, which is used to committing them, but what’s surprising is how not even China’s economic downfall has made him recapacitate. China’s economy “shrank in quarter-over-quarter terms from 2021-2022 by 2.6%”. The unemployment rate among the youth was 19.3% in June 2022 and foreign investment and tourism are also suffering (Huang, 2022). Xi Jin Ping, through censorship and propaganda, has made the Zero-Covid policies something his followers praise him for and that his opponents don’t have enough status to challenge. The reality that a single person has this much unrestrained power over a nation, makes us fear what’s to come for China as Xi is rising as one of the world’s leading dictators and will have the opportunity to rule again for a third term. 



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