Illustration by Zelalam Waritu

Did China defeat the Pandemic?

As China removed its Zero-Covid policy last December, Chinese students at NYUAD shared their mixed reviews towards this drastic change.

Feb 12, 2023

Editor’s note: The article uses pseudonyms out of privacy and safety concerns of the interviewees.
China was one of the last countries enforcing a Zero-Covid policy, up until recently. In December 2022, the Chinese government suddenly announced “ten new Covid-19 easing measures,” removing all the stated PCR tests’ requirements and closing down the “Health Codes” (the Chinese equivalent of AlHosn). The government also put an end to the tracing and quarantining of close contacts of Covid-19 cases. On Jan. 8 of this year, China officially reopened its borders by terminating the [quarantine policy for people coming into China from other countries] (
Before this drastic change, one of the largest protests surfaced nationwide right after a fire in Ürümqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang Province, in November 2022. In this tragic accident, at least 10 people died in a residential apartment because of the deadly fire. It was speculated that the long-lasting Zero-Covid restrictions restrained the victims from escaping from the building in a timely manner. This event thus catalyzed the protests against the lockdown policy.
It appears that the change in the Zero-Covid policy conforms to the general public’s opinions, shown by the scale of the protests against the policy. However, the reality of the situation remains far more complex. The mixed opinions from NYUAD Chinese students serve as a microcosm of the complex feelings and responses of Chinese people all over the world to this drastic change in policy.
Many critiques stem from the abruptly enforced and surprising nature of the change. Nate, a student from northeast China argued, “The government seems to change the policy in a fit of pique. I think the government doesn’t take enough responsibility in this event.”
Matthew, Class of 2026, also pointed out that the government didn’t take enough responsibility in giving care to minorities and socio-economically underrepresented groups. “The inequality gap is huge in China. People living in underdeveloped areas and people living in villages are not ready to confront this pandemic,” said Matthew. His opinions are supported by the provincial statistics from Yuekai Security, showing that China’s western provinces have fewer doctors to cope with the Covid-19 surge. “If I were to the policy maker, I would need to provide financial support for people who are affected by this. Instead of saying we are not going to care about [the Covid-19 pandemic] any more, [the government should] do it responsibly,” said Matthew.
Some directly pinpointed the repercussions brought by the abrupt change. Kusina, Class of 2026, said all his friends got infected by Covid-19 after the end of the policy, and most of them had serious symptoms. Another Chinese student from Wuhan said his family could not buy any medicine for his seriously ill grandma because the demand for medicine was far more than the supply.
“The government should loosen the policy a bit at first,” shared Robunga, Class of 2025. “After several rounds, the policy should finally turn from gradual abolition to full abolition.”
Nevertheless, some argued that such rapid changes are necessary. “In the second half of 2022, even under Zero-Covid policy, many cities still reported more than hundreds of cases a day. How can I believe that gradually loosening the Zero-Covid policy could make any difference from completely abolishing it?” Potter, Class of 2024 from NYU New York, described the Covid-19 policy at this stage as an either-or decision, in which China either insists on Zero-Covid or completely abandons the policy.
“Some people criticized the sudden suspension of the policy leads to the depletion of medical resources. However, even if the government were to adopt the gradual-loosening policy, the medical resources would still not be enough because those medical workers that would be free from taking care of the quarantined would then be forced to nurse more Covid patients under the loosened Covid policy,” Potter speculated.
Behind such mixed, and sometimes even contradictory attitudes toward the drastic change in the Zero-Covid policy is the lack of access to accurate and reliable information upon which people can base their opinions. Due to this, Carlos, Class of 2026, finds it hard to form a firm stance. “If I were to base my opinion on information from my friends and family in China, I would say the rapid change of policy is a good thing as I personally do not know anybody affected by severe symptoms and the economy is recovering during the Spring Festival when everybody goes shopping.” However, Carlos is not sure if his friends and family are representative because the opinions on social media seem to contradict his personal experience. Carlos’s confusions stem from the lack of transparency of the government’s official data on the total number of Covid cases and deaths after the end of the Zero-Covid policy.
The biggest health authority in China has stopped announcing the daily Covid cases and deaths figures since December. According to the medical officials from the National Health Commission (NHC), around 60,000 people have died of Covid in China since the end of the Zero-Covid policy. However, another statistic from Wigram Capital Advisors, which uses a mathematical model based on the Shanghai epidemics in 2022, estimated 1.6 million Covid deaths within three months of abandoning the policy.
Another factor complicating the situation is the unique context of the Covid-19 issue in China. Matthew, Class of 2026, for example, found it to be particularly challenging to make a “good or bad” value judgment on the Zero-Covid policy given the broader complexities of abundant and interwoven facts, contexts, societal traditions, and international expectations. “People who make binary judgments on the Covid-19 policy in China are usually biased in the sense that they compare China with countries such as the U.S. or the U.K. that have radically different contexts compared to China," argued Matthew. “China has a much larger population, and people live in very close contact with each other. In China, there is a kind of special dynamic there.”
The Covid-19 pandemic in China has been more than a simple public health crisis, but also a complex issue that needs to be examined from political, cultural, and economical dimensions. A single answer cannot possibly answer the questions raised by the three-year pandemic. Similarly, a single opinion cannot represent the collective opinion of Chinese students at NYUAD, not to mention the opinions of all Chinese citizens. It is important to look back to reflect on this tragedy and, much more importantly, forward to find how China better prepares for the next public health issue like Covid-19.
Carl is a Staff Writer. Email them at
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