The world’s most populous nation is being forced onto a zero-COVID off-ramp.
In China, a dam seems on the verge of breaking. Following a wave of protests, the government has begun to relax some of its most stringent zero-COVID protocols, and regional authorities have trimmed back a slew of requirements for mass testing, quarantine, and isolation. The rollbacks are coming as a relief for the many Chinese residents who have been clamoring for change. But they’re also swiftly tilting the nation toward a future that’s felt inevitable for nearly three years: a flood of infections—accompanied, perhaps, by an uncharted morass of disease and death. A rise in new cases has already begun to manifest in urban centers such as Chongqing, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Now experts are waiting to see just how serious China’s outbreak will be, and whether the country can cleanly extricate itself from the epidemic ahead.