EXPLANATION: Why are China’s COVID rules so strict?

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BEIJING – At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China enacted its “zero COVID” measures that were strict, but did not conflict with what many other countries were doing to contain the virus. While most other countries viewed health and safety regulations as temporary until vaccines became widely available, China has steadfastly stuck to its strategy.

Tired of policies that have housebound millions of people in an attempt to isolate any infection, and in view of the freedoms now being enjoyed elsewhere in the world, protests have erupted across China in recent days.

While some anti-virus restrictions have been eased in some places, the ruling Communist Party has reaffirmed its “zero-COVID” strategy. Here are some rules:

TESTS AND QUARANTINE FOR INCOMING PASSENGERS

Inbound travelers must undergo a PCR test before flying and quarantine in a hotel for five days and three days at home upon arrival. That may seem strict, but prior to the updated regulations earlier this month, travelers had to undergo 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 also ended its “circuit breaker” policy of shutting down a flight for a week or two if a certain percentage of passengers on board tested positive for COVID-19, with the length of the ban depending on how many had the virus.

INSULATION ON DOMESTIC ROUTES

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

Within China, individuals must show their personal “green code” — declaring they are COVID negative — when entering public places such as malls and restaurants, or using public transportation. Everyone has to register with their identity papers and the code is then displayed via a smartphone app. Staying “green” means not contracting COVID-19, not having close contact with someone with the virus, and not visiting areas considered at risk. If there’s an outbreak in your area, local authorities may require regular testing to keep the code green. For example, Beijing currently requires residents to undergo a rapid COVID test at a government-approved facility at least every 48 hours.

China has responded quickly and decisively to any detection of COVID-19, shutting down parts or entire cities. At present, the central urban area of ​​Chongqing, home to about 10.3 million people, is in lockdown, as is part of Guangzhou.

The decision on what to close depends on the size of the outbreak, and smaller closures of buildings, compound buildings or boroughs are common. Entire apartment complexes 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.

Similarly, office buildings are on lockdown if someone in the building tests positive for COVID until the building can be disinfected, a process that usually takes several days.

China has many other rules that most will be familiar with from the early months of the pandemic. Social distancing is encouraged and people should wear masks in public locations. In areas where there is believed to be a risk of transmission of COVID, there are restrictions on large gatherings, restaurants are closed for indoor dining, and enhanced disinfection measures are required in public locations.

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

AP news researcher Caroline Chen and Yu Bing contributed to this report.

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