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Is the Benefit of China’s Zero-COVID Policy Worth the Cost?

Even as countries around the world lift COVID-19 restrictions, China shows no sign of easing its strict zero-COVID policy. A cost-benefit analysis finds that the Chinese strategy may be more economically sound than many assume, but also shows that it is time for the country to adopt a less severe approach.

NEW YORK – Before COVID-19 vaccines were developed and distributed, China’s strict approach to controlling the virus resulted in fewer deaths and a much lower death rate per million people than in many other countries. But while these successes were impressive in late 2020 and early 2021, effective vaccines and treatments have become readily available since then, leading the World Health Organization to declare that the end of the pandemic is in sight.

Yet China has maintained its strict zero-COVID regime. While this containment strategy has saved many lives, it has also slowed the country’s economy, exacerbated supply-chain disruptions, and kept millions under lockdown for months. Does the zero-COVID policy pass a cost-benefit test in 2022?

China’s government and many investment banks had predicted that its economy would grow by roughly 5.5% in 2022, on the assumption that COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted. Instead, China’s economy is now expected to grow closer to 3.3% this year. By reducing the growth rate by 2.2 percentage points, the zero-COVID policy will likely cost China $384 billion in lost GDP.