Life, Liberty, and Lost Output
The protests that have erupted across China show that the country’s populace prioritizes freedom of movement and assembly over draconian pandemic restrictions. While the government has resisted loosening its strict zero-COVID regime, civil unrest may force it to change course.
NEW YORK – The anti-quarantine protests that erupted across China last month highlight the gulf between the Chinese people and Communist Party leaders regarding the necessity of the strict zero-COVID policy. Given the obvious disconnect, it is worth examining how and why the authorities and the public have grown so far apart in their assessment of the policy’s costs and benefits.
One important difference seems to be the value that the two sides assign to liberty. While the public may prioritize freedom over severe pandemic restrictions, the government asserts that sacrifices are necessary to save lives.
There is little doubt that China’s containment strategy has saved many people. As I recently argued, China’s huge population means that even if it had the same death rate, vaccines, vaccination rates, public attitudes, and public-health policies as the United States, more than a million Chinese likely would have died from COVID-19 this year, compared to roughly 240,000 in the US. It could be argued, therefore, that the zero-COVID policy has saved at least a million Chinese lives.
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