Asian Insider

The costs of China's zero-Covid-19 policy

More than two years into the pandemic, China is still insisting its “zero-Covid” policy is the only way to go, normalising measures like testing and quarantine as part of daily life.

China correspondents Elizabeth Law and Danson Cheong count the true cost of the strategy as Shanghai and Beijing see an easing in control measures.

The high price of zero

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, quarantines and flash lockdowns have almost become a part of "normal" life in the country.

With most cities now requiring nucleic acid tests done within the past 48 hours just to enter public spaces, offices and even schools, it is estimated that the testing could cost some 1.7 trillion yuan (S$350 billion) a year in China's major cities alone, or about 1.5 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.

Yet, with Beijing announcing last week that it will withdraw provincial funding for Covid-19 testing and treatment, who exactly will foot the bill for the slew of measures, and at what cost?

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Testing positive for Covid in 'zero-Covid' China

Reporting on China's Covid-19 travails for the last 2½ years, I was familiar with the country's coronavirus approach but never thought I would see it from the inside.

After returning from my first visit home in two years, I tested positive for the virus at Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

What followed was a front-row seat to how a healthcare system can be stretched to its limit, and how in China, the emotional toll of Covid-19 far outweighs all else.

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Surge in medical waste with millions of Covid-19 tests done daily in China

It takes about two seconds to get swabbed for Covid-19 in China.

A plastic swab is removed from a plastic sleeve and stuck into a waiting mouth, before the top is broken off into a plastic test tube.

This deft, swift motion is repeated millions of times each day across China.

Such rapid testing is the backbone of China's zero-tolerance Covid-19 strategy serving to keep tabs on a fast-spreading virus - but it is also generating mountains of medical waste.

Everything from masks and gloves to face shields and protective suits is being thrown away on a regular basis with the mass testing and lockdowns that are key to China's Covid-19 strategy.

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