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Live and locked from China. What was it all for?

Local Shenzhen people queue to be tested daily for COVID-19 in November 2022. Photo by Daragh Moller

Daragh Moller looks back on the sudden lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in China in 2022 as the whole country suddenly contracted the virus.

Caption: Mobile testing station left unmanned in Shenzhen. Photo by Daragh Moller

The disappearance of thousands of Covid-19 testing centres left a southern city metropolis in shock December 7 2022 as lightning-fast release of national restrictions swept across China and left people asking what was it all for.

Three years of draconian restrictions reminiscent of Cold War fiction weighed heavily on citizens of the populous nation as long periods of continuous confinement at home, experience of punitive border crossing protocols and potentially lethal quarantine hotels left people asking what it was all for, as blanket lifting of restrictions brought the virus out in the open and people took stock.

Residents of the southern Guangdong Provincial Capital Shenzhen woke to find something missing from their city streets on December 7 2022: Covid-19 testing centres. Like a sharp gust of wind from the north, the absences from the city streets caught everyone by surprise.

A definitive statement released by the State Council later that day outlined a complete break with Zero-Covid restrictions across the country, citing evidence of a weakening of the Covid-19 virus on the Mainland. Despite the fact that the weakening of the virus was a view not universally accepted across social media, people were left wondering how they would manage Covid-19, having been repeatedly told through national broadcasts over the three years of Covid’s Certain Deadly Impact.

Day after day people read official announcements in disbelief how one city after another announced mandatory Covid testing and forced quarantine scrapped.

The domino effect followed weeks of intense social unrest, culminating in three nights of relatively peaceful but uncharacteristic simultaneous protests in top-tier cities. Protests were documented on local social media before being censored.

By December 10, all travel restrictions had also been lifted and the travel restriction app deleted from mobile phone the social media app store.

In Shenzhen, a city of 22 million people, local community testing had already been suspended December 7, and testing booths pulled from city streets.

Caption: Test sticker reads “I’ve been tested”. Photo by Daragh Moller

Since early 2021, the city made 24-hour “Zero-Covid” testing mandatory;  results recorded on official mobile apps presented as green, yellow or red-coloured codes, would, without exception, approve or deny entry to all homes, offices, restaurants and public transport systems.

By December 15, the city had fallen into almost total silence, the winter streets empty of people, too afraid to risk catching the virus to venture outside.

As people took stock of the previous three years, experience of harsh restrictions across the entire country was consistent and none more so than border crossing and quarantine, considered the most punitive of restriction experiences still in operation. What was it all for is a question still left unanswered years later.

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