China’s “Zero-COVID”: Was it Worth it?

Health and Gender Policy Brief #154 | By: Geoffrey Small | January 30, 2023

Header photo taken from: Kevin Frayer / Getty Images


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China’s Citizens protesting the country’s “zero-COVID” policies

Photo taken from: Reuters

Policy Summary

During December, 2022, citizens of China took to the streets and sparked a mass protest against the government’s “zero-COVID” policies that had been in place for over two years. According to Human Rights Watch, prolonged lockdowns, administered unpredictably, by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) have hampered accessibility to necessities like food and proper healthcare. This is especially true for more vulnerable populations like senior citizens. 

Videos online show COVID-19 control workers and police dragging and beating people who resisted the lockdowns. Journalists have also been targeted for reporting on COVID-related information and the authoritarian methods that the government used to control outbreaks. It is well known that China has the largest population in the world, with a cultural emphasis on supporting a collective society. However, was a draconian-style lockdown worth it? Comparing metrics between China’s policies and the United States may offer some insight.

Policy Analysis

Rate of Infection

It is well known that the CCP philosophy on transparency runs in contrast to basic principles of a free market democracy like the United States. The reported data on the rate of China’s infection, hospitalization, and deaths have not been entirely accurate or consistent. However, as the pandemic draws to a close, more accurate reports are coming out of China, as they recently abandoned their “zero-COVID” policy. 

According to Reuters, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reported that 80% of the population in China has been infected. From December 8th to January 12th, Reuters also reported that 59,938 Chinese patients died in hospitals, which is a significant increase from previously reported figures during the “zero-COVID” policy era.

Chart taken from: The Pew Research Center 

(click or tap to enlargen)


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Pew Research Center shows China’s unfavorable world views during the beginning of it’s “zero-COVID” policies.

The United States’ recent medical reports indicate about half of the population has reported infections with COVID-19. The CDC also reported that 17,158 people have died from infection between December 10th and June 14th. When factoring in China’s significantly larger population, the rate of deaths between the two countries during that timeframe are relatively similar.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Chinese officials have stated that their overall vaccination rate is about 90%. However, 30% of the elderly 60 and up have not been vaccinated. 60% of citizens 80 and older also remain unvaccinated. According to the CDC, The United States two-dose vaccination rate is closer to 69% with 94% of citizens 65 or older vaccinated.

When it comes to vaccine development, there is plenty of misleading information stating that Chinese-developed vaccines CoronaVac and Sinopharm are far less superior to Moderna and Pfizer. Despite this misinformation, China could have benefited from a non-isolationist approach to vaccine development. According to NPR, studies conducted on these vaccines indicate they all offer a high rate of protection. Pfizer’s efficacy rating was 95% to 97%, compared to CoronoVac’s 89% to 94%. However, CoronaVac tests showed that the first two doses provided significantly less protection for older adults when compared to Pfizer.

China’s  “zero-COVID” policies will always be subjected to criticism when it comes to the draconian, isolationist, and authoritarian methods they used to keep the virus under control. Its important to donate to organizations like Human Rights Watch in order for the public to understand that authoritarian methods of controlling a pandemic are not more effective than a democratic society’s.

Engagement Resources​

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