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The End of ‘Zero Covid’? China Signals a New Course for 2023

The Chinese government last week released ten new measures that herald a significant easing of the country’s strict ‘Zero Covid’ policies. Having increasingly become an international outlier through its dogged determination to stamp out Covid-19, China now appears to have belatedly accepted the need to find a way to live with the virus after almost three years.

The abrupt nature of the changes took most of the population (and many international observers) by surprise. It is fair to conclude they were largely a political response to widespread protests against ‘Zero Covid’ in recent weeks and months, to show the public their voices are being heard, as well as a reaction to increasingly dire forecasts about the state of the Chinese economy. The latest data for November shows that total exports were down 8.7% and total imports down by 10.6%. The announcement has been accompanied by a wave of official messaging that is now trying to downplay the severity of the Omicron strain in a bid to reassure a public which until a few weeks ago had been told the exact opposite.

While many ordinary Chinese people are understandably in a celebratory mood, there is still much confusion about how the changes will be enacted, and fear about the consequences of a major Covid-19 ‘exit’ wave. In some cities like Beijing, for example, a nervous public is largely staying at home as cases start to soar, stocking up on food, western and traditional Chinese medicines and home testing kits.

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