What is the zero-Covid policy that China has been following so far?

China’s zero-Covid policy has been making international headlines because it’s at odds with the manner in which the rest of the world approached and managed a spike in Covid-19 cases.

China’s approach has been to impose stringent lockdowns for even a slight increase in Covid-19 cases. On the contrary, most nations that went in for stringent lockdowns during the early days of the pandemic (March 2020) have walked the fine line between life and livelihood. And now, most have almost completely opened for business, entertainment extravaganzas, and of course the football World Cup.

Uncannily though, China is seeing a surge in cases and protests linked to stringent containment measures — nearly three years to the month it was first reported from Wuhan, as a “pneumonia of unknown cause”.

Why are Covid cases going up in China despite this zero-Covid policy?

It’s a double-edged sword. Intensive lockdowns protect people from exposure to the virus. And later when these protected people do get exposed, the infection numbers increase. A similar situation was witnessed in Kerala, say experts, where people were well protected and later caught the infection when other States had already been through the worst of the Delta wave.

The other reason being widely attributed to the rise in China’s Covid-19 cases is reduced vaccination coverage of the elderly. In fact, even those vaccinated will be seeing their immunity wane (given the limited protection the Covid-19 vaccines give). And as international travel opens up, so does the exposure to the many variants in circulation.

Given the widespread unrest across China, will the country have to exit from the zero-Covid policy?

The protests being seen in the country, oddly, come even as China had indicated a relaxation of sorts from the zero-Covid policy. But the subsequent lockdowns and fire in an apartment block in Urumqi — that resulted in deaths — seem to have exacerbated the situation.

China will need to set its house in order quickly, given the many foreign companies that continue to have their operations there. A rise in infection combined with pockets of protest make for a potent mix.

Does the resurgence in Covid-19 numbers in China and Singapore mean there is a threat of another wave of the pandemic?

Public health experts says they are not entirely sure of the ground realities in China, be it the number cases, deaths or regarding variants. Do the authorities in China know something more on the virus that the rest of the scientific world does not? Now that’s a question that boggles many minds, but it does not get clear answers, given the limited information coming out from the region.

But variants are a reality that the world has to live with, only this time around, vaccination programmes need to be more targeted — to the elderly and vulnerable — rather than mass programmes, say experts.

What actions are Chinese policymakers considering to quell this wave of the pandemic?

At present, China has the twin concerns of limiting the SARS-CoV-2 virus (its variants) and addressing the unrest that is being reported from certain regions. While there was a plan earlier to relax the zero-Covid policy in terms of the stringent lockdowns and intense testing and tracking, the surge in cases and recent protests have brought in an element of uncertainty.

Experts believe the country should focus on vaccinating the elderly and open-up in a graded manner to join the rest of the world.

How does India need to view this surge in the neighbourhood?

India needs to keep up its sentinel surveillance and classification of the virus/ variants, so that a surge in cases or mortality anywhere in the country is picked up. While the threat of a severe variant remains, presently, the safest approach would be to stay on guard, protect the elderly and vulnerable and be prepared on the vaccines, medicines and hospital front.