World·Explainer

Just how strict are China's COVID-19 rules?

At the outbreak of the pandemic, China set out "zero-COVID" measures that were harsh, but not out of line with other countries. While most other countries saw the regulations as temporary until vaccines were available, China has stuck steadfastly to its strategy. Here are some of their regulations.

Protests have broken out around China in recent days over the country's zero-COVID approach

A man gets his routine COVID-19 throat swab at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing on Wednesday. COVID restrictions in China often resemble rules as they were in other countries during the early months of the pandemic. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China set out its "zero-COVID" measures that were harsh, but not out of line with what many other countries were doing to try to contain the virus. While most other countries saw the health and safety regulations as temporary until vaccines were widely available, however, China has stuck steadfastly to its strategy.

Weary of the policy that has confined millions of people to their homes in an attempt to isolate every infection, and with an eye on the freedoms now enjoyed elsewhere around the world, people have been protesting around China in recent days.

Although some anti-virus restrictions have been eased in some places, the ruling Communist Party has affirmed its "zero-COVID" strategy.

Here are some of the regulations:

8 days of quarantine for all inbound passengers

Inbound travellers need to take a PCR test before flying and quarantine in a hotel for five days and at home for three days upon arrival. That may seem strict, but prior to updated regulations earlier this month, travellers needed to take two PCR tests before flying and quarantine for seven days in a hotel and three days at home. Earlier, the quarantine period was 14 days. China also ended its "circuit breaker" policy of shutting down a flight for a week or two if a certain percentage of passengers aboard tested positive for COVID-19, with the length of the ban dependent upon how many had the virus.

An airport security guard in protective gears gestures to a masked traveller to proceed for a security check at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on Aug. 24. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

Quarantine for close contacts on domestic routes

Travellers on domestic flights, trains or buses who are close contacts of someone with COVID-19 need to quarantine for five days at designated sites, plus three days at home. Prior to November changes, the quarantine time was longer and the close contacts of the person with close contact to someone with COVID also needed to isolate. People who visited areas in China deemed "high-risk" also need to quarantine for seven days at home.

Constant tests needed to stay 'green'

Inside China, individuals need to show their personal "green code" — indicating they are COVID negative — when entering public places like shopping malls and restaurants or when using public transit. Everyone must register with their identification papers, and the code is then displayed through a smartphone app. Staying "green" means not contracting COVID-19, not being a close contact of someone with the virus and not visiting areas deemed to be a risk. If there is an outbreak in your area, local authorities may require regular testing to keep the code green. In Beijing at the moment, for example, residents need to undergo a rapid COVID test at least every 48 hours at a government-approved facility.

Security guards wearing masks monitor access to a neighbourhood near QR codes used for scanning health code statuses on June 20 in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

1 positive case can quarantine an entire building

China has reacted quickly and decisively to any detection of COVID-19, and has locked down parts of or entire cities. At the moment, the central urban area of Chongqing, with about 10.3 million people, is in lockdown, as is part of Guangzhou.

The decision on what to lock down depends upon the scale of the outbreak, and smaller lockdowns of buildings, building compound areas or city districts are common. Entire apartment building units are locked down if a single resident is found to have COVID, and people are not allowed to leave for at least five days. Food and other essential supplies can be ordered for delivery.

Similarly, office buildings are locked down if someone in the building tests positive for COVID until the building can be disinfected, a process that usually takes several days.

WATCH | Expert wonders what China's strict COVID-19 rules have accomplished:

Expert questions efficacy of China's COVID-19 lockdowns

2 months ago
Duration 4:28
Stringent lockdowns in China should have afforded the country time to vaccinate large portions of the population against COVID-19, says Canadian infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. Instead, China is now 'playing a rapid game of catch-up,' Bogoch says.

Like the early months of the pandemic

China has in place many other regulations that would be familiar to most from the early months of the pandemic. Social distancing is encouraged and people have to wear masks in public venues. In areas where there is believed to be a risk of COVID transmission, there are restrictions on large gatherings, restaurants are closed for indoor dining and enhanced disinfection measures are required at public venues.

Much like the bubble measures imposed for the 2022 Winter Olympic's in Beijing, facilities where people are deemed most at risk, like nursing homes, have so-called "closed-loop management" plans in place.

Commuters wearing face masks ride bicycles along a street in the central business district in Beijing on Oct. 20. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

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