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Everything You Need to Know About China’s Covid Protests

Updated on November 28, 12:13 AM EST

What You Need To Know

After nearly three years of enduring uncompromising Covid rules, lockdowns, and endless rounds of testing, it seems some people in China have finally had enough of Covid Zero.

In rare and stunning scenes, thousands of people took to the streets in cities like Shanghai and Wuhan at the weekend, openly challenging police and the restrictive Covid policies that have isolated China from the world. The immediate catalyst for the outpouring of dissent appears to have been the deaths of 10 people in a high-rise building fire in Xinjiang, which sparked speculation that Covid rules blocked aid and fire-fighting efforts. But the protests also reflected years of pent-up frustration at the social and economic toll of a policy that has come to make less and less sense as the rest of the world reopened.

Protests spread quickly, with online videos showing people demonstrating in cities including the capital Beijing, clashing with officials and even calling for President Xi Jinping to step down.

By The Numbers

  • 10 People killed in a high-rise fire which sparked nationwide protests
  • 30% The chance Goldman Sachs gives of China reopening before the second quarter of 2023
  • 5.8 million The number of people who could need intensive care treatment if Covid Zero policies are dropped

Why It Matters

As Covid cases continue to rise with colder weather and more transmissible variants, people appear unwilling to submit to more and more punishing curbs to stamp out its spread. The question now is, how will Xi's government respond? Earlier this month, the government issued 20 vague guidelines aimed at getting local officials to be less disruptive with Covid controls. But the country's ultimate goal remains to extinguish the virus's spread — a seemingly impossible task without strict rules.

With vaccination rates lagging those in other countries and the exclusive use of less effective domestically-produced shots, Bloomberg analysts calculated that dropping all restrictions would see the virus spread like wildfire, potentially putting 5.8 million people in intensive care. There will also be a political cost to Xi's strongman rule if he backs down in the face of public protest.

All eyes are now are on how the government quells public anger, how brutal they might be, and whether the incidents can catalyze a real change in the Covid Zero policy — or if the country sticks to a stance that's become Communist Party ideology. With his position as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong firmly entrenched, Xi is facing his biggest test yet.

    Beijing’s unsustainable pandemic strategy is finally reaching a tipping point as extraordinary demonstrations erupt around the country.