The 43-year-old resident of the central Chinese province of Hunan is a cancer survivor and she has just learned that even though there are COVID-19 patients in her building, the two-week lockdown imposed to curb the virus’ spread is to be lifted. “Wear your mask and don’t go to crowded places — we only have ourselves to rely on now,” Hu wrote in her family group chat on the messaging platform WeChat. After nearly three years of a zero-COVID strategy that has sought to stamp out the virus wherever it has emerged with lockdowns, mass testing, and centralized quarantine, China has suddenly begun to relax some of its most severe restrictions. The shift in a policy that has held back growth in the world’s second-largest economy and disrupted the lives of millions of people came shortly after a wave of anti-lockdown protests swept across the country.
The relaxation of the policy has delighted many, especially those whose economic livelihoods have been harmed. Still, many are agitated about what might happen next, with health experts predicting a surge of coronavirus cases in a country where the vast majority of the people have not been exposed to the virus and many elderly people have not received complete courses of the vaccine. The COVID-Zero Strategy also means that since 2020, the Chinese government has pushed the narrative of an arguably deadly virus, portraying the rest of the world’s decision to coexist with it as a risky move.
Yet it took less than a few nights for the government to begin dismantling the anti-pandemic regime it had worked so hard to build. Within a week, the government will lift the requirement for PCR testing for access to most public places, dismantle the nationwide COVID-19 tracking app, a clear symbol of China’s pandemic response, and allow everyone to We have generally relaxed other measures imposed because our daily lives are so restricted.