NüVoices Podcast #88: The End of China’s Zero-Covid Policy with Dr. Jennifer Bouey

Note: As current events regarding Covid are rapidly changing, we want to acknowledge this episode was recorded in early January 2023.

The text below is a paraphrased version of host Solarina Ho’s podcast introduction at the start of the episode.

Following the 20th Party Congress last fall, the signal from the top seemed to suggest that China would continue to stay the course on zero-Covid. Few could have imagined the sudden dismantling of the policy.

Under zero-Covid, a breathtaking amount of resources were deployed across the country, along with intensive data tracking. All of that completely disappeared suddenly, and there are no reliable figures on current infections and deaths today.

Days before the Lunar New Year, China reported nearly 60,000 Covid-related hospital deaths for the first five weeks of the current outbreak. But many experts believe that number is still low. As physicians in China told Reuters, they are discouraged from citing Covid on death certificates, while some relatives of those whose deaths were related to Covid say the disease did not appear as a cause of death on official documents. Meanwhile, numerous other reports (including satellite imagery obtained by the Washington Post) suggest funeral homes across the country are overwhelmed.

The number of deaths is also a lagging figure. One infectious disease model reported in the journal Nature suggests that the current wave peaked ahead of Chinese New Year in many parts of China, which means the number of deaths could surge over the holidays and beyond.

In this first episode of our 2023 season, Dr. Jennifer Bouey, an expert on global health equity and security, is here to make sense of zero-Covid’s sudden end in China. With host Solarina Ho, Dr. Bouey discusses the reasons behind China’s relatively low vaccination rate, the country’s decision not to import mRNA vaccines, and how Spring Festival travel could impact China’s public health policy. 

About Dr. Jennifer Bouey: She is a senior policy researcher, Tang Chair for China Policy Studies, and an epidemiologist at the RAND Corporation. She also serves as the department chair for Global Health at Georgetown University. She leads wide-ranged collaborative research initiatives on the U.S.-China relationship, racial equity for Asian Ameicans, global health security, and health equity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bouey has testified multiple times before U.S. Congressional committees on China’s public health, global health, and health care reforms. Most recently she is working on projects to promote global health dialogues, gender equity in health care access in Asia, and global infectious disease response system strengthening.

About SolarinaShe is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 15 years of journalism experience, most of which was spent at one of the world’s largest and oldest news agencies, Reuters. She currently writes on a broad range of health, general, and business news for CTVNews.ca and other various publications and organizations, with a particular focus on COVID-19. Her personal areas of interest include topics related to China, women’s issues, media/journalism, parenting and children, immigration, the environment, space exploration, technology, and pop culture (mostly television).

Recommendations: Dr. Bouey recommends The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and getting sunlight in the morning – vitamin D is important!