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


BEIJING — On the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China established its “zero-COVID” measures, which were tough but not at odds with what many other countries were doing to contain the virus. While most other nations viewed health and safety regulations as temporary until vaccines were widely available, China has remained steadfast in its strategy.

Tired of policies that have locked millions of people in their homes to isolate any infection and eyeing the freedoms now being enjoyed elsewhere in the world, protests have erupted across China in recent days.

Although some anti-virus restrictions have been relaxed in some places, the ruling Communist Party has reaffirmed its “zero-COVID” strategy. Here are some of the regulations:


Arrivals must take a PCR test before flying and quarantine for five days in a hotel and three days at home after arrival. That may seem strict, but before the updated rules earlier this month, travelers had to take two PCR tests before flying and quarantine for seven days at a hotel and three days at home. The quarantine period used to be 14 days. China also ended its “circuit breaker” policy of grounding 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.


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

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

China has responded quickly and decisively to any detection of COVID-19, sealing off parts or entire cities. At the moment, the central metropolitan area of ​​Chongqing, with a population of around 10.3 million, is locked down, as is part of Guangzhou.

The decision on what to close depends on the extent of the outbreak, and smaller building, development or neighborhood closures are common. Entire residential units will go into lockdown if a single resident is found to have COVID, and people will not be allowed to leave for at least five days. Groceries and other essential supplies can be ordered for delivery.

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

China has enacted many other regulations that most would be familiar with from the early months of the pandemic. Social distancing is encouraged and people are required to wear masks in public places. In areas where risk of COVID transmission is suspected, there are restrictions on large gatherings, restaurants are closed for indoor dining and increased disinfection measures are required in public places.

Similar to the bubble measures imposed for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, facilities where people are considered most vulnerable, 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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