How strict are China’s COVID-19 rules?

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China defined its « zero-COVID » measures which were tough, but not out of step with what many other countries were doing to try to contain the virus. While most other countries viewed health and safety regulations as temporary until vaccines were widely available, China stuck to its strategy.

Weary of the policy that has confined millions of people to their homes in a bid to isolate any infection, and with an eye to the freedoms now enjoyed elsewhere in the world, people have been protesting across China in recent days.

Although some virus restrictions have been relaxed in some places, the ruling Communist Party has affirmed its « zero-COVID » strategy.

Here are some rules:

8 days quarantine for all incoming passengers

Incoming travelers must take a PCR test before flying and quarantine in a hotel for five days and at home for three days upon arrival. That may sound strict, but before the regulations were updated earlier this month, travelers had to take two PCR tests before flying and quarantine for seven days in a hotel and three days at home. Previously, the quarantine period was 14 days. China has also ended its « circuit breaker » policy of halting a flight for a week or two if a certain percentage of passengers on board test positive for COVID-19, with the length of the ban depending on the number of passengers on board. people infected with the virus.

An airport security guard in protective gear waves to a masked traveler to proceed through security checks at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on August 24. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

Quarantine for close contacts on domestic routes

Travelers on domestic flights, trains or buses who are close contacts of someone with COVID-19 must quarantine for five days at designated sites, plus three days at home. Prior to the November changes, the quarantine time was longer and close contacts of the person in close contact with someone with COVID also had to self-isolate. People who have visited areas in China deemed « high risk » must also quarantine for seven days at home.

Constant testing needed to stay “green”

In China, individuals must show their personal « green code » – indicating they are COVID-negative – when entering public places like shopping malls and restaurants or when using public transport. Everyone must register with their identity papers, and the code is then displayed via a smartphone application. Staying « green » means not contracting COVID-19, not being in close contact with someone who has the virus, and not frequenting areas deemed to be at risk. If there is an outbreak in your area, local authorities may require regular testing to keep code green. In Beijing right now, for example, residents must take a rapid COVID test at least every 48 hours at a government-approved facility.

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Security guards wearing masks monitor access to a neighborhood near QR codes used to scan health code statuses on June 20 in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

1 positive case can quarantine an entire building

China responded quickly and decisively to any detection of COVID-19 and locked down parts or entire cities. At present, the central urban area of ​​Chongqing, which has a population of about 10.3 million, is closed, as is part of Guangzhou.

The decision on what to lock down depends on the scale of the outbreak, and small lockdowns of buildings, compound areas or parts of town are common. Entire apartment building units are locked down if a single resident is found to have COVID, and people are not allowed to leave for at least five days. Food and other essential supplies can be ordered for delivery.

Likewise, office buildings are locked down if someone in the building tests positive for COVID until the building can be disinfected, a process that typically takes several days.

Like the first months of the pandemic

China has many other regulations in place that would be familiar to most of the early months of the pandemic. Social distancing is encouraged and people must wear masks in public places. In areas where there is thought to be a risk of COVID transmission, there are restrictions on large gatherings, restaurants are closed for indoor dining, and enhanced disinfection measures are needed in venues. public.

Much like the bubble measures imposed for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, facilities where people are considered most at risk, such as nursing homes, have put in place so-called « loop management » plans. closed ».

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Commuters wearing face masks ride bicycles on a street in Beijing’s central business district on October 20. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)


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