Answer: (from someone who’s actually in China)
TLDR; Due to China’s zero Covid approach, everyone that tests positive, no matter the severity of symptoms, has to be sent to either the hospital or to central quarantine. However, China’s number of positive cases has now surpassed the number of available resources. Due to lack of workers and disorganization at every level, many Chinese people in locked down areas are unable to obtain basic food, water, and medical care.
The longer version (and still pretty surface level): First, it’s important to know what Zero Covid is. From the very beginning (and as an evolution from the [2003 SARS epidemic](www.cdc.gov/sars/about/fs-sars.html)), China treats diseases using a Zero \[Disease\] strategy. In other words they don’t want a *single* case of COVID in the country, even asymptomatic. This has been the strategy since the very beginning, and there are huge travel restrictions and lockdowns semi-regularly. These gigantic lockdowns have led to China having some of the lowest number of cases in the entire world.
China from January 2020-February 2022: Now, the Zero Covid strategy has overall worked in China since 2020. There were occasional outbreaks, mostly in places that saw a lot of international commerce and trade, such as in Guangdong and near the Russian border. However, these outbreaks were usually dealt with pretty quickly and rarely got to more than a couple dozen cases. As more of the population got vaccinated and there were fewer and fewer cases, things very, very slowly started to go back to a new normal. People were traveling more (though not abroad) and you’d go to parties and crowded places without worrying. There were still some precautions such as wearing masks in public transportation and checking travel history in some places, but overall it was getting pretty chill.
This was especially seen with the Beijing Winter Olympics, when people from abroad were very publicly able to enter the country without quarantine. It was believed among a lot of people here that China was *finally* going to loosen the borders and we’d be able to start traveling abroad.
China from February 2022 to now– OMICRON: Before I explain the current situation in more detail, I’d like to correct something other people are saying in these answers. The Chinese vaccine (made from a dead form of the virus) is an effective vaccine. Yes, it is NOT as good as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. It loses its potency time and there are significant number of breakthrough cases. It is also not as good at preventing serious illness for the Omicron or Delta variants. However, it is still effective in the sense that it greatly the risks of death and hospitalization. And with over 80% of the Chinese population fully vaccinated, you’d think that’d be enough, right?
Well…. maybe. First of all, the elderly are the population with the lowest rate of vaccination–two-fifths of Chinese 80 and older remain unvaccinated
(www.sixthtone.com/news/1009983/with-fresh-urgency%2C-china-pleads-with-seniors-to-get-vaccinated). This is also the population most likely to need serious medical intervention if they catch COVID. Second, and most importantly, if you test positive for COVID, you WILL be sent to either a hospital or central quarantine no matter what your symptoms are.
At death’s door and need a ventilator? Go to the hospital.
Have a serious fever and need constant monitoring? Go to the hospital
Lethargic and mild fever? Go to the hospital (though if there are no beds, central quarantine may be chosen for you instead).
No symptoms at all? Go to the quarantine center.
The fact that EVERYONE who tests positive, symptomatic or not, gets sent to either the hospital or central quarantine is the main issue. It’s fine to have that system when there are only a couple dozen, or maybe even a couple hundred cases. But once you reach the thousands? And once you consider that close contacts to the infected should also quarantine? A mess, to put it mildly.
In Shanghai, the vast majority of cases right now are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms. But because there are just so many people that are “supposed to” be quarantined right now, the system simply can’t deal with it. There are just not enough workers to deal with all the needs of 30 million plus people. People, even those with money, are going hungry and there have been many public cases of pets being killed and parents being separated from their children. The confusion and lack of communication from both the larger government and the local grassroot workers is only adding fuel to the fire. And this is all just scratching the surface.
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