Protests against China's strict zero- Covid restrictions and harsh lockdowns erupted in cities across the country this week as official infections soared to record levels and the accuracy of government figures is questionable.


China's Covid tally this week was the worst.

AFP via Getty Images

According to government data, China has reported 5,233 Covid deaths and around 1.6 million infections since the beginning of the Pandemic.

If the U.S. reported the same number of cases every day for a week, it would be one of the best weeks of the entire epidemic.

China's figures make up a tiny fraction of global totals, with less than 1% of Covid deaths and less than 1% of confirmed cases.

New Zealand, Ireland, Georgia, Jordan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong are just a few of the places China has recorded fewer infections in than the U.S.

Almost double that number died this November in the U.S., which is 4% of the global population, and the majority of states have individually reported more Covid deaths than the entire of China.

The US has reported more Covid deaths in the span of a week than China has reported since the outbreak began, according to the CDC.

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The per capita death rate in China is the lowest in the world. North Korea, which has limited testing capacity and a penchant for disseminating inaccurate information that can't be independently verified, and a handful of small states like the Vatican are included.

News Peg

People took to the streets over Beijing's strict Covid-19 restrictions. The demonstrations mark one of the biggest displays of civil unrest in mainland China for a long time and it's rare for the public to openly oppose the communist government. There have been record high Covid cases in China, which have soared to around 40,000 a day despite the strict curbs that have been put in place to contain the virus. The death of 10 people in an apartment fire in the western city of Urumqi last week is believed to be one of the main causes of recent unrest. The restrictions had nothing to do with the deaths, according to authorities.

Key Background

Beijing has staked a significant amount of political capital due to the zero- Covid policy. Zero-covid aims to eradicate the virus completely. This approach is still pursued by China. It doesn't offer any room for compromise or for learning to live with the virus. Authorities have pursued zero- Covid in a relentless and uncompromising manner, locking down entire cities and introducing compulsory testing if any are found. There are reports of people being unable to leave their homes even during earthquakes, being monitored by guards and drones, and people fleeing stores and factories to avoid being kept indoors. During the Pandemic, China's Covid statistics have been called into question, and they likely hide the true impact of Covid. The country has a low number of deaths due to the number of infections.

What To Watch For

There is no clear exit away from the zero- Covid strategy even if it becomes unsustainable. Most experts think that eradication is the only natural end point for zero- Covid. There would need to be high levels of immunity among at-risk groups to prevent death on a massive scale if restrictions on living with the virus were to be lifted. Large numbers of elderly are unvaccinated, and China has not made wise use of the time it bought with strict lockdowns, which are designed as a temporary public health measure to stall. China's vaccine quality is questionable and its healthcare system would struggle to deal with a large outbreak. In the wake of the protests, officials have begun to show signs that they may be rethinking their strategy, and the language used by officials this week is softer than previously used.


Three years of zero- Covid has saved many lives, but with poor vaccination rates, lackluster shots, little natural immunity from previous waves of infections and fast-spreading variant like omicron, abandoning zero- Covid will likely cost China a lot. Allowing the virus to spread now, particularly with lower levels of immunity in at-risk groups like the elderly, could create a " tsunami" of cases that could overwhelm hospitals and kill more than one million. As many as 2.1 million people will die if the policy is lifted, according to research.

China is fighting over the future of zero-COVID.

Why are people protesting and what will happen next?