What life under China's zero-covid policy looks like: World in Photos

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World in Photos: In China’s zero-covid policy — one step forward, one step back

It’s hard to imagine and hard to exaggerate what people across China have been through during the coronavirus pandemic. As Grid has reported on several occasions, after beating back the first major outbreak of covid-19 in Wuhan nearly three years ago, China embarked with confidence (and some would say arrogance) on a policy that came to be known as “zero-covid.” That policy’s principal features have been long quarantines, strict testing regimens and — most controversially — widespread lockdowns that have followed even small outbreaks of cases. The economic and human costs of zero-covid have been profound.

We devote this space to the issue — in part because there have been fresh outbreaks in the capital, Beijing, and in the southern city of Zhengzhou, which is home to key plants for the assembly of Apple iPhones. But we also focus on China and zero-covid because of news that will have been welcome to millions of Chinese citizens: the first cracks in the government’s ironclad approach have emerged.

Under new rules announced Friday, quarantine times for close contacts with the virus have been shortened from seven to five days; travelers from other countries must now quarantine for eight days — still a long period, relatively speaking — but that’s down from what had been a 10-day mandate. For people in China, the new measures mean that the number of close contacts who will be subject to isolation and mass testing has also dropped.

To non-Chinese, none of this will sound like cause for celebration. But for those who have lived through the lockdowns and other restrictions since the early days of 2020, it’s a start. In particular, that change in the rules for “close contacts” will be particularly welcome; millions of Chinese citizens have until Friday been forced to quarantine for 10 days after a confirmed contact with anyone who had been in contact with a covid-positive person. That meant quarantine for tens of millions of people who never had the virus themselves.

All that said, these photos are less about the celebrations — we haven’t seen those images yet, if they exist — and more about the fresh lockdowns. A reminder of what so many Chinese hope will be over soon.

People dressed normally are in line to take a covid test, a worker dressed in PPE guides them as they approach.
Three people are seen waiting in line for a covid test. All of them are wearing masks, and one of them is sitting on a stool.
A woman on a bike, on one side of a barricade, speaks to two men on the other side. They are all wearing masks.
People are seen from a distance, talking to each other through a fence. They are all wearing masks.
A security guard is on his phone by the entrance of a part of the city surrounded by blue fence. Inside the fence, some workers wearing PPE gear gather.
A woman reaches for a delivery from over the fence, the entrance of her housing complex has a blue fence. Both her and the delivery person are wearing masks.
A man is seen walking by a long blue fence, a little taller than he is. By the sidewalk, there are many motorcycles parked.
Six workers wearing PPE from head to toe carry a box in a grocery cart through an empty street surrounded by a red fence.
A woman lowers her mask for a health worker to swab the insides of her mouth for a covid test. The worker is wearing full PPE gear and is behind a glass, and only their arm sticks out through a hole.
  • Tom Nagorski
    Tom Nagorski

    Global Editor

    Tom Nagorski is the global editor at Grid, where he oversees our coverage of global security, U.S.-China relations, migration trends, global economics and U.S. foreign policy.

  • Jake Garcia
    Jake Garcia

    Associate Producer, Multimedia

    Jake Garcia is a documentary filmmaker and multimedia producer for Grid.

  • Mariana Labbate
    Mariana Labbate

    Global Editorial Assistant

    Mariana Labbate is the editorial assistant for Grid's Global team.