COVID-19 cases surge across China, government to send more than 51 million into lockdown

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has been known for its COVID-zero strategy, which includes international travel bans, extensive lockdowns and widespread testing for the Chinese population.

Until now, this approach has been responsible for keeping the country’s situation under control. Even during the Winter Olympics that took place in Beijing in February, the set of restrictions imposed on athletes and anyone directly involved with the Olympics was able to keep positive cases confined to the Olympic “bubble,” preventing the virus from spreading to the community.

However, since the beginning of March, China is facing their worst COVID-19 outbreak of the past two years. The number of new cases has doubled across the country due to the increased spread of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant.

This new flare-up is bringing concerns to Chinese health authorities and will challenge the success of the COVID-zero strategy. To contain the recent outbreaks of COVID-19, authorities have established extensive lockdowns in different regions of the country, and while countries in the West are adopting a more flexible approach to the pandemic, China is enforcing some of its most rigorous methods right now.

For instance, the population of the city of Shanghai and the southern tech powerhouse of Shenzhen are facing the return to online classes for all students, restrictions on the operating time of public transportation as important industries and commerce are temporarily closed. Furthermore, residents of Jilin province are indefinitely forbidden from traveling beyond regional borders.

The extent of these measures has had an impact on the daily lives of approximately 50 million people and will also threaten the manufacturing and technological production of one of the most important industrial hubs in the country, leading to a direct negative impact on this year’s GDP.

As the local dissatisfaction grows, it is necessary to raise the question: is COVID-zero policy still possible?

Many economists are warning that those harsh crackdowns are hurting the economy.

Evelyn Cheng, the Beijing correspondent for CNBC addressed this issue, saying “Taken together for the spillover effect to other regions, the lockdown and stricter quarantine measures in this round could deduct ~0.5-0.8% from Q1 GDP growth,”

Also, citizens are showing signs of weariness due to the government’s draconian measures; some residents of Shenzhen have described feeling more apprehensive and anxious since the new measures were implemented and adopted.