Covid Surges in China After Restrictions are Lifted

Since December, hospitals in China like this one have been filled to the brim. Source: The New York Post.

By Angelina Tang

On December 7th, after three years of zero-Covid lockdown policies, China lifted its restrictions on the country. Unfortunately, as a result of the citizens’ newfound freedoms of travel, cases are spiking due to lax regulations combined with the annual winter surge.

First, we must talk about what China was like up to this point. China’s zero-Covid policy essentially meant that the country worked towards the goal of eradicating the virus altogether within its borders. This meant that strict regulations regarding health, quarantine, and travel were in place, most notably the use of health codes on every citizen’s phone to track their health, quarantining at government-ran facilities, and the use of aggressive lockdowns on communities or cities when cases sprang up. Traveling over the border also required a whole slew of testing and quarantine requirements. Two weeks of quarantine in a hotel was required for foreigners entering the country, for example, just to make sure that they wouldn’t bring the virus in.

All of these procedures essentially made China a bubble world of its own, practically locking the people in their own homes. Some people have been locked out of their own apartment complexes and left to roam the streets on occasion. Recently, a wave of protests erupted across the country, particularly by college students sick of having their free will squashed.

Now, however, things are different. Due to pressure on the government to lift its iron grip on the country, these restrictions have been significantly weakened. Health codes are no longer required in public places, quarantining at home is allowed, traveling within the country is no longer a hassle, and lockdown policies are no longer as severe. As a result, more freedom of movement has been permitted to the people. This sounds great on the surface, but the effects are far from that.

Due to their previous policies, China has been very unprepared for the surge in cases that is now occurring, similar to the unregulated surges the U.S. has been facing time and time again. However, because China has only seen highly controlled clusters of cases up until now, their hospitals have been filled to capacity by cases; the problem is only exacerbated by the awful timing overlapping with flu season, the lack of a high vaccination rate for elderly people, and the lack of stockpiling of antiviral drugs. In short, they weren’t prepared, and the effects have been catastrophic.

In the first twenty days of December alone, 240 million cases have been reported. The surge is ongoing into January. As such, the U.S., Japan, and countries in the EU have begun imposing travel restrictions on travelers from China. Mandatory testing is required for entry. China has since stated that these restrictions are politically motivated.

Meanwhile, within the country, young, vaccinated, and healthy adults are returning to “normal” pre-pandemic life while the elderly and immuno-compromised suffer in overflowing hospitals. Experts have warned of possibly 1 million more Covid-related deaths by the summer, as well as a second wave when people begin traveling within the country for the Lunar New Year.