China seems to had done really well during the pandemic and has had far lower deaths than Europe and United states.

However as countries around the world vaccinate their population and learn to live with covid, China seems determined to pursue a zero covid policy.

What political motivation is there for this? In many places death rates have not increased despite the infection rates being out of control. What would be the long term goal of zero covid since covid is unlikely to go away?

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    I don't believe China has made official statements so as stated the question cannot be answered without speculation.
    – uberhaxed
    May 2, 2022 at 23:27
  • Just because we are doing better with the policy doesn't mean we can't see it grow again if we are not careful.
    – Joe W
    May 2, 2022 at 23:33
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    Death rates in the rest of the world aren't as high as in early waves, but they're still very high. The UK is currently averaging over 250 deaths a day, which would be around 100,000 a year if they stay at that level. May 3, 2022 at 13:34
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    "China seems to had done really well during the pandemic and has had far lower deaths than Europe and United states." - This would seem unlikely given that the virus had so long to spread before its pathology and infection vectors were understood. But as there is no way to audit the veracity of their numbers, I suspect now even by China itself. So I suppose it's just safest to accept this as true to support whatever argument they might be trying to make to justify these measures.
    – ouflak
    May 3, 2022 at 14:06
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    @PrincessAda "But that is a sacrificed I am prepared to make."- Boris Johnson May 10, 2022 at 9:42

3 Answers 3


First one could argue (and the Chinese government certainly does) that up until around the end of 2021 the Chinese Covid strategy was more successful than the one implemented by the west. There were massively less Covid cases in China and also significantly less death related to it. There are some very severe travel restrictions and up to the end of 2021 the very harsh Chinese lockdowns only effected a relatively small number of people. The vast majority of Chinese people lived through 2020 and 2021 with very few Covid related restrictions. One could even argue that in a hypothetical world where the entire world had followed Chinas Covid strategy Covid would have been eradicated after a few months.

Now currently the lock downs affect a much larger share of the population and it seems unclear whether they are going to end any time soon. But changing a successful strategy is difficult. This would require admitting that you were wrong before (or at least be perceived that way). So my interpretation is that they are simply stuck with a strategy that worked well before and are unable to change course.


I would dispute the statement that China has "done really well" under the pandemic, and that they've had "far lower deaths" than the US and Europe. You simply can not trust the numbers that come out of China regarding this, and logic points to their actual covid statistics being far, far higher than what they claim (they were the first ones hit, they have a massive population that lives in close vicinity in many places, they have had a panicked response to covid which would not be neccessary if things were going well, they are still having problems while the rest of the world is starting to move on, their vaccines are less effective than those of other nations, etc).

Regarding your actual question, the best explanation I have come across comes from the laowhy86 youtube channel regarding the zero covid lockdown policy that's currently in effect in Shanghai. The guy lived in China for ten years, speaks Chinese and is up to date with what is going on there (it's his livelyhood to be informed):


Key points:

*The CCP are very reluctant to admit that they might have been wrong in their overall strategy, and thus will continue pursuing it no matter the cost (to save face)

*Regarding Shanghai specifically, Xi Jinping might be using the lockdowns as a means to punish political rivals which have a power base in Shanghai

*More speculative, but the CCP might be using lockdowns and such as a sort of "test run" for how they would fare under war time conditions

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    The speculation that China has secretly had comparable deaths to the West is questionable. A comparable death rate would mean something like 4-5 million deaths in two years which isn't something that could be so easily brushed under the carpet, especially considering other things like overloaded hospitals and large numbers of people sick at any time. Several of your points to support this (the "panicked response", and not moving on) are just restating that they're still sticking with Zero-COVID rather than starting to ignore the problem. May 5, 2022 at 10:29

People not dying of COVID. People not suffering from long COVID.

China has very different priorities than western governments. While Western governments consider these to be neutral, or even a positive, as they don't affect opinion polls the Chinese government prioritises their country instead and would rather people don't die unnecessarily.


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