How China’s “zero-Covid” lockdown offers lessons for future pandemics –

by | Jan 31, 2023 | COVID-19

For the first time in three years, millions traveled within China earlier this month to reunite with loved ones for the country’s most important holiday, the Lunar New Year. Unfortunately, these celebrations coincided with — and are sure to exacerbate — a Covid-19 outbreak currently spreading throughout the country.
This spike comes on the heels of China’s National Health Commission ending many of its “zero-Covid” policies in December. These public health regulations had heavily restricted travel within and to the country, quarantined infected individuals in government-run facilities, and enforced city-wide lockdowns that required millions to stay indoors for months at a time. While the US threw the term “lockdown” around in the early stages of the pandemic, China was one of the few countries that actually did lock down its population.
These initiatives did prevent repeated surges in Covid-19 cases. But it also led to inadequate responses to other health crises and emergencies — including a November 2022 building fire in the Xinjiang region where virus-related blockades prevented an effective emergency response. Protests over the last few months of 2022 bubbled across major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Urumqi, calling for an end to lockdowns, censorship, and in some cases, even Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s presidency.
Beijing’s decision to end zero-Covid policies may have saved the nation from further social chaos. But how it eased up resulted in a public health crisis, with an estimated 2.02 million government-confirmed Covid-19 cases (though that’s likely an undercount) as of January 29, compared to 119,836 cumulative cases a year ago.
Although a variety of zero-Covid strategies have been tried in different countries since the start of the pandemic, they have varied in intensity, length, goals, and outcomes. In some nations, lockdowns were used intermittently to control outbreaks and to give public health leaders time to develop and distribute vaccinations. China’s lockdowns were used as a primary prevention measure. Partially, China’s current outbreak stems from the country’s all-or-nothing mentality, experts told Vox. The country eased lockdowns, travel restrictions, and mass testing, all at once — and the virus came rushing in.
Lockdowns aren’t a popular public health strategy when strung out for long periods of time. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a useful option in the pandemic playbook. Lockdowns cannot contain a disease like Covid-19 indefinitely — especially more contagious variants — but they can mitig …

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