In place of covid-zero, “there is a viable, more effective alternative approach available, which cannot prevent what’s inevitable—the rise of cases—but could avoid the worst scenario,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. A “mitigation-based approach” would prioritize the protection of the elderly by making sure they get three covid vaccine doses—or have access to free anti-covid pills, Huang said (though China’s vaccines are less effective than mRNA vaccines, three doses can significantly reduce severe illness). Meanwhile, hospitals should no longer treat mild covid cases, and authorities also need to educate the public so they don’t panic and flood hospitals even with mild symptoms.

“This is a much more cost-effective approach,” said Huang.

Ng, meanwhile, points at the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s new five-year development plan issued in January, in which the organization described 2023-2025 as a growth period for domestic and international travels, offering a potential clue to China’s timeline. “Given the current situation, the government will probably keep on-and-off restrictions for the rest of 2022, and more significant changes may only come in 2023,” he said.

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