China’s Pandemic Shift: The End of Dynamic zero-COVID

Beginning with the anti-lockdown protests triggered by a fire in Xinjiang on November 24, this issue brief examines Beijing’s abrupt abandonment of zero-COVID mere days later and its underlying motivations. The government’s new pandemic discourse vis-á-vis the public downplays the severity of the virus and stresses individual over collective responsibility in now living alongside it. This messaging seeks to instill trust in the new approach, prepare the public for temporary difficulties, dilute responsibility, and reduce impending strain on public health resources while also characterizing the new approach as a calculated next step in fighting the pandemic. Yet, China’s new pandemic strategy is not without key challenges and significant risks in the year ahead—both for public health and Xi Jinping’s already imperiled pandemic leadership legacy.

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