End of China’s ‘zero-COVID’ policy could cause ‘unpredictable’ viral evolution, says Yale doctor

Guards in protective suits keep watch at the gate to a residential compound as COVID-19 outbreaks continue in Beijing, December 7, 2022. Photo by REUTERS/Thomas Peter.

China has lifted several of its health restrictions, moving away from its strict “zero-COVID” policy. That includes allowing asymptomatic or mild COVID patients to quarantine at home, instead of a government facility. It will also be easier to travel domestically and get over-the-counter cold and fever medications. It’s a big step for the country that’s maintained its pandemic rules for the last few years. But what happens when you remove restrictions for more than a billion people right before a busy holiday travel season?

Millions of people are expected to catch COVID within the first few months of the restrictions being lifted. In total, an estimated 90% of Chinese residents could catch the virus. That’s all according to Xi Chen, associate professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health.

He adds that there’s concern around the spread of the virus during China’s Spring Festival.

“We will see massive travels across the country, so that will generate some unpredictable effects on the virus evolution. Given the world's most populous country, a large number of people immunocompromised, and who can have the virus for months, [that] may produce variants of concern,” Chen explains.



  • Xi Chen - associate professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health