As the United States and other nations have begun the return to ordinary life amid the COVID-19 pandemic, China is still enforcing harsh policies regarding the virus. And the Chinese are pushing back.

China’s “zero-COVID” policy has taken a toll on the economy. According to The New York Times, youth unemployment has hit a record 20%, corporate profits are slipping and economic growth is far below expectations.

Frustration with the government’s “zero-COVID” policy has bubbled over, and rare Chinese protests against the government have begun to emerge.

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What is China’s ‘zero-COVID’ policy?

When the COVID-19 virus first appeared in China in late 2019, extensive lockdowns and testing was in order. China intended to eradicate the virus, and still hopes it can, per The New York Times.

Unlike the majority of the world, which has evolved regulations and learned to live with the virus, China remains intent on enforcing strict guidelines surrounding COVID-19.

China’s “zero-COVID” policy was created to control the initial breakout in Wuhan. People with the virus are isolated or put in government quarantine centers. Anyone considered a close contact to the infected must also isolate. Entire cities can shut down when outbreaks are considered severe enough.

According to The Washington Post, Shanghai was shut down for nearly two months this spring, and the long-term lockdown left many Shanghai residents without enough food or other basic necessities.

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The government has been reported to use drones to remind people to wear masks and stay indoors.

During outbreaks, many people who tested positive for the virus were sent to government quarantine centers. Patients of these centers have complained about a lack of privacy and space, as well as poor conditions in an area where lights are kept on 24 hours a day.

Mainland China has shut its borders from tourists, per the Times. Anyone who chooses to leave the country must go through strict quarantine to reenter, which has urged most residents to stay put.

Some of the other strict measures being enforced were reported by the BBC. These “zero-COVID” policy measures include:

  • In places where cases have been reported, mass testing is required.
  • Local authorities are required to impose strict lockdowns, even if there are just a handful of reported cases.
  • During lockdown, businesses and schools are closed.
  • Shops must also close — unless they sell food.
  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 must isolate at home or in a government facility.
  • Lockdowns last until no new cases are reported.
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Why is China still enforcing ‘zero-COVID’ policies?

The Chinese government has said that it will not let up on strict “zero-COVID” policies until COVID-19 cases are at or near zero. According to the World Health Organization, China has over 9.6 million confirmed cases of the virus this year.

According to The Atlantic, Xi Jinping and his party claimed to have a plan to eradicate the disease. China claims to be saving lives through “zero-COVID” policies, and the country’s death toll remains lower than that of other countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., per the BBC.

The U.S. recently criticized China’s “zero-COVID” efforts.

“We’ve said that ‘zero-COVID’ is not a policy we pursuing here in the United States,” a spokesperson for President Joe Biden’s National Security Council said, per CNBC. “And as we’ve said, we think it’s going to be very difficult for the People’s Republic of China to be able to contain this virus through their ‘zero-COVID’ strategy.”