China Relaxes Zero-COVID Policy Amidst Unprecedented Mass Protest


Photo Courtesy of CNN

Last month, a wave of mass protests occurred across China at a scale not seen since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. Protestors demanded an end to the zero-COVID policy which China has continued to reinforce since the onset of the pandemic while other countries have relaxed restrictions.

The zero-COVID policy primarily involves locking down cities and districts where even a few COVID cases are reported, along with other measures like mass testing and contact tracing apps. While this may have saved more lives, the policy has become a double-edged sword. People’s resentment over the zero-COVID policy began long before the protests when Chinese citizens saw other countries returning to their normal state and treating COVID as an endemic disease. However, a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, which killed 10 people, caused this long-simmering resentment to reach a boiling point.

People blamed the failure to rescue those trapped in the apartment on China’s COVID restrictions. Videos showing a fire truck spraying water that fell short of the apartment went viral, sparking waves of anger. While some claimed that the fire truck couldn’t get closer because of pandemic control barriers, others claimed that the residents could not leave their rooms due to COVID protocols. 

Either way, this event caused people to protest across the country, calling for an end to the strict COVID policies and some even demanding the resignation of President Xi Jinping, who was just confirmed for an unprecedented third term. In addition to peaceful protests on the street, people have also come up with clever tricks to bypass internet censorship to protest online. People living in China sent photos and videos that would otherwise be banned on Chinese platforms to a Chinese painter in Italy called “Teacher Li”, who has reposted these media. Others posted confusing messages like: “good, good, good, yes, yes, yes, right, right, right” to indirectly protest while getting around automatic detection online. 

In response to the mass protests, the Chinese government has loosened its COVID restrictions. Some major changes include scrapping the health code system, which tracks individuals’ health statuses and decides whether they can leave their homes and enter public places. Lockdown and traveling restrictions have also been relaxed, allowing relatives working in different cities and countries to reunite with their families. Chinese citizens celebrate the long-awaited change and return to normal.