11/29/2022: The End Game of China's Zero-COVID Policy
They need to live with COVID
Protests are erupting across China over the Zero COVID policy. Beijing has softened the tone and recommended against unnecessary and lengthy lockdowns. But it doesn’t appear that China will switch off their Zero Covid policy. They just want to execute the Zero Covid policy with more precision and less lockdowns. I don’t understand how that could possibly work as the rest of the world has decided to live with COVID and although it’s not perfect, we are pretty much back to normal. Huge crowds are currently watching WorldCup in person without masks and that is a shocker for many Chinese people. They are tired of the constant lockdowns and incessant PCR tests. Many people are broke. Through WorldCup, Chinese people see other possibilities. They want to live like people in other countries but this zero COVID ideology is holding them back. The protests are the last resort to get their freedom back.
As a Taiwanese, I would like to tell you the story of how Taiwan exited their zero COVID policy and transitioned to live with COVID. Taiwan ended all the COVID restrictions recently. It’s a huge relief for me as my family and I no longer need to quarantine when we travel back.
Taiwan had been doing really well with a very low number of COVID cases up until early 2022. But as the world opened up, their COVID restrictions became an obstacle to participating in the global economy. Plus, there’s really no end game for continuing this scorched-earth zero COVID policy. To keep up with America and the rest of the world, they decided to switch the policy from zero COVID to living with COVID. Let me tell you this switch was not an easy policy to implement as the COVID infections and deaths skyrocketed. They went from less than 1000 deaths on 5/1/2022 to 14,000+ deaths today. And this was after ~90% of the population getting vaccinated with at least 2 shots. There were actually some objections to the policy switch because of the projected deaths but they decided to go with it anyway. It was super nerve wrecking when the policy was first implemented and my own 73 year-old mother got COVID. But my mom was fine in the end as most other people who got COVID. Taiwan eventually came out of the huge wave of COVID cases and deaths and they can now live normally. Most Taiwanese people agree with the government’s decision of making the policy change. But there is really no perfect solution here. There’s only the less than perfect solution of living with COVID and the worse than bad non-solution of zero COVID. I am so glad that Taiwan didn’t become a victim of its own zero COVID success. They bit the bullet and ended the pains quickly.
But here is the thing. If China abolishes the zero COVID policy, they are going to see a shocking number of COVID deaths. Compared to Taiwan, their COVID death rates will probably be higher as they are not using the more effective mRNA vaccines and their healthcare system is fragile. But even if we assume China can achieve the same death rate as Taiwan, since China’s population is roughly 60X of Taiwan’s, we are talking about 14276 * 60 = 856,560 COVID deaths in a very short period of time. It’s highly likely if China decided to live with COVID, they would have more than the USA’s 1.1M COVID deaths, which will be a very bitter pill to swallow. But if China wants to get out of this COVID nightmare, I don’t see any other way out. Zero COVID policy simply cannot last forever otherwise it risks turning into the second cultural revolution.