China zero-covid approach evolves with extreme testing capacity more targeted lockdowns

While there are questions over the reliability of China’s official Covid death toll, it appears to rank among the world’s lowest on a per capita basis, and its gross domestic product finished 2021 roughly where pre-pandemic trends predicted.

it is worth studying how mainland China has sustained zero Covid this long. China put enormous resources behind the effort, most importantly on testing capacity: A city of fewer than five million people is expected to screen every inhabitant using sensitive PCR tests in two days, and a city of more than five million in three days. The port city of Tianjin tested its entire population of 14 million in 4.5 hours last month, state media reported. By contrast, testing became backlogged or unavailable for many in numerous U.S. cities during the Omicron wave.

eijing also has modified zero Covid to make it less disruptive. The lockdown of Xi’an, a city of 13 million, for a month through late January is the exception. Under a more targeted approach dubbed “dynamic clearing,” restrictions typically cover just a district, a neighborhood or a building. “Some localities endure tough restrictions and disruption for a short period of time so that most of the country can exist without restrictions most of the time—a balance that so far has enjoyed reasonable popular support,” Cui Ernan of Gavekal Dragonomics, a China-focused research service, wrote last month.

This hasn’t been costless. China’s consumer spending has been hit hard by lockdowns and travel restrictions, though strong exports have offset the impact on overall growth. Yanzhong Huang, a health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said 4.4 million small businesses closed in the first 11 months of last year while just 1.3 million new ones registered. China, he estimates, spent nearly $100 billion on domestic vaccines that are far less effective than western mRNA shots that it refuses to approve