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Even an Earthquake Can’t Shake China’s Zero-COVID Policy

As Beijing clings to rigid lockdown measures, the Chinese public has been paying the price.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
A health worker wears a protective suit in Beijing.
A health worker wears a protective suit in Beijing.
A health worker wears a protective suit as he disinfects an area outside a barricaded community that was locked down for health monitoring after recent cases of COVID-19 were found in the area in Beijing on March 28. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at China’s zero-COVID policy, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, and Russia’s new weapons deal with North Korea. 

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Will China’s Zero-COVID Policy Ever End?

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at China’s zero-COVID policy, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, and Russia’s new weapons deal with North Korea. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Will China’s Zero-COVID Policy Ever End?

A deadly earthquake induced landslides and killed at least 65 people this week in China’s Sichuan province—but it still couldn’t shake Beijing’s rigid zero-COVID policy, which made it impossible for locked-down residents of the city of Chengdu to flee their buildings. 

In one video that spread online, workers refused to let one apartment compound’s residents out of its locked gates despite their demands to leave, as the Washington Post reported. Other residents were reportedly ordered to stop gathering and go back inside, according to the BBC, further stoking outrage and public criticism. 

None of the 65 deaths have been tied to these cases, but the behavior of the authorities during a natural disaster reflects the extreme measures that Beijing is willing to take to stamp out the virus—while the public pays the price. Even as much of the world loosens COVID-19 restrictions, China has stubbornly stuck to a seemingly endless zero-COVID policy that has fueled disillusionment and frustration while taking a heavy economic toll.

“When COVID-19’s omicron variant hit China this spring, the party dug in its heels on its ‘zero-COVID’ policy,” Helen Gao wrote in Foreign Policy. “It enacted a series of lockdowns, from Shanghai to the northeastern province of Jilin, so ineptly planned that millions of residents were left wringing their hands over supplies of basic necessities like food and medicine.”

An estimated 65 million people across 33 different cities are now under partial or complete lockdown as Beijing attempts to quash COVID-19 by quarantining, surveilling, and mass testing the public. On Tuesday, China documented nearly 1,500 new cases in 103 cities, many of which were asymptomatic.

The result has been uncertainty and havoc, as panic-buying empties grocery store shelves and cities face delays in school start dates, business closures, and hourslong waits for COVID-19 testing. Beijing’s approach has also battered the economy, driving up unemployment and derailing economic growth

Even when cities are out of lockdown, the threat of one looms large. In August, after Shanghai emerged from a brutal two-month lockdown marked by food and medication shortages, chaos erupted inside an Ikea when officials announced they would lock down the store over COVID-19 exposures. To avoid being quarantined inside, customers desperately raced to escape the store, in some cases even confronting security guards to flee.

These shifting policies have shaken the publicand eroded confidence in the state. As people reel from the policy hurricane, the bulwark they once leaned on is gone, Gao wrote. A party that has been known since the 1980s for its pragmatism and commitment to social stability has turned itself into an agent of chaos and, in extreme cases, a direct threat to people’s livelihoods.


What We’re Following Today

Protecting Zaporizhzhia. After inspecting Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report outlining the scale of damage at the facility while calling for the creation of a protective zone to prevent further harm

“Pending the end of the conflict and re-establishment of stable conditions there is an urgent need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident arising from physical damage caused by military means,” the report said. “This can be achieved by the immediate establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.”

Russia’s new weapons. In an effort to bolster its weapons supply, Moscow has been turning to Pyongyang for new military equipment deals, according to declassified U.S. intelligence. Russia’s purchases include millions of North Korean rockets and artillery shells, the New York Times reported.


Keep an Eye On 

Burkina Faso’s bomb attack. A military-escorted convoy struck an improvised explosive device in Burkina Faso on Monday, killing at least 35 people and wounding dozens more. It’s unclear who planted the bomb, although the country has previously experienced attacks by groups tied to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

Britain’s new chancellor. British Prime Minister Liz Truss appointed longtime ally Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor of the exchequer—the second-most powerful post in the U.K. government. Kwarteng will have his hands full as Truss appears poised to roll out a plan that would freeze skyrocketing energy bills at their current levels—a move that could cost the government 130 billion pounds (or $150 billion).

Writer Nels Abbey profiled Kwarteng for Foreign Policy last year, noting that Given his potential, patience, and calculating nature, it is hard to believe that the first Black Conservative to sit at the top table of British government has reached his peak.


Tuesday’s Most Read

Why Trumpism Will Endure by Michael Hirsh

The Chinese Public Doesn’t Know What the Rules Are Anymore by Helen Gao

How U.S. Grand Strategy Is Changed by Ukraine by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Angela Stent, Stephen M. Walt, C. Raja Mohan, Robin Niblett, Liana Fix, and Edward Alden


Odds and Ends 

British prime ministers may come and go, but Larry the Cat—a tabby that former British leader David Cameron adopted in 2012—is one of the few creatures that can call No. 10 Downing St. a permanent home. With the entry of Truss, Larry will now have lived in the building through the terms of four prime ministers. 

In his farewell speech, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Larry initially feuded with his family’s pet dog, Dilyn, noting that their improved relationship could be a model for British politicians. “If Dilyn and Larry can put behind them their occasional differences, then so can the Conservative Party,” he said. 

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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