Factbox: What is China’s zero-COVID policy and how does it work?

BEIJING, Nov 3 (Reuters) – Nearly three years into the pandemic, China is sticking to strict COVID-19 containment policies that have caused mounting economic damage and widespread frustration while closing its borders to most international travel holds.

China has yet to describe when or how it will begin to exit an approach it calls “dynamic zero.”

Here are the key facts about China’s zero-COVID policy.


China says it recognizes domestic outbreaks are inevitable, and its policy isn’t designed to have zero cases all the time, but to take “dynamic” action as cases emerge.

Dynamic-Zero is two-pronged – prevention and mitigation. This year, both aspects have intensified as the highly transmissible Omicron variant has spread across China.

Prevention focuses on early detection through regular PCR testing, particularly in cities where a recent negative result may be a requirement to enter a store or public facility.

Potential or suspected cases are isolated at home or quarantined at a government-controlled facility.

Those deemed to be close contacts of infected people must be quarantined, and even distant or potential contact can result in a stay-at-home order.

Control tactics aimed at quickly breaking chains of transmission to prevent outbreaks include quarantining cases in government-controlled facilities and locking down buildings, communities, or even entire cities.

As of March 2020, China’s borders remain closed to most visitors. Arrivals of all nationalities are subject to a seven-day quarantine in a facility and three-day home isolation.


Each person’s PCR test result is electronically logged in government databases, as is their own travel history, which is tracked through cell phone signals.

People must maintain a “normal” COVID profile with consistently negative test results, no contact with infected people, and no visits to risky places. Profiles are maintained on cell phone “health kits”.

An abnormal profile blocks access to public places and public transport, and may even require days of home quarantine with electronic seals on doors to enforce isolation.

Profiles can become abnormal without warning – indicated by a color change or the dreaded appearance of a pop-up window – if you’ve been to a mall visited by an infected person, or if you’ve been in contact with a close contact. Sometimes profiles become abnormal even if all requirements are met.

Visits to other cities or provinces may require quarantine on arrival.


Lockdowns, which can be at the building level or much wider, can be sudden.

A single case can trigger a building or condominium lockdown, meaning people are unable to leave. Some lockdowns have lasted for months.

Entire cities can be locked down with just a few hours notice.

Major cities that have been shut down, sometimes more than once, include Shanghai, Xian, Chengdu, Tianjin, Shenzhen, and even entire provinces and regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet, and Jilin.


China argues its policies save lives.

Authorities concede that Omicron is far less likely to cause serious health problems but say its high transmissibility means large outbreaks would lead to a rush on medical resources and expose vulnerable groups, including hundreds of millions of elderly people.

China’s official death toll had remained at just 4,600 since 2020, when more than 560 deaths swept Shanghai in April and May, spurring other cities to continue to improve their COVID defenses.

Chinese health officials last month predicted there would be at least 100 deaths for every 100,000 infections.


China has yet to approve foreign vaccines or domestically-made vaccines based on mRNA technology.

Authorities have also not pushed for a faster vaccination pace this year compared to a major vaccination campaign in 2021.

As of Tuesday, 3.44 billion doses had been administered, with over 90% of China’s population fully vaccinated. But only about 60% of the general population has received booster shots. About 80% of those over the age of 60 have received additional doses.

Reporting from Beijing Newsroom; Adaptation by William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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