The Countries That Locked Down The Hardest Are Now Being Decimated By COVID-19

(Photo by Yifan Ding/Getty Images for International Paralympic Committee)

Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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Several of the countries that pursued a “zero-COVID” strategy or otherwise implemented harsh lockdown restrictions are now facing their most devastating waves of the pandemic.

In the U.S., COVID-19 has been on a steady decline since January in terms of both cases and deaths. In places like China, South Korea and New Zealand, officials that were once lauded for a highly effective pandemic response are now facing drastic spikes in cases and deaths.

China implemented perhaps the most draconian measures in the world to fight COVID-19, deploying advanced tech to track each citizen’s every movement, lock people in their homes if exposed to the virus and shutting down entire cities at the first sign of a small outbreak. Numbers reported by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which are disputed by many experts, painted a picture of a massive country keeping spread of the virus to an impressively limited level. According to CCP data, the country averaged less than 200 cases per day from March 2020 all the way until February 2022.

Now, the country is being overwhelmed with outbreaks. Nearly one-third of the total cases in the country for the entirety of the pandemic occurred in March. March 19, CCP authorities reported the country’s first COVID-19 deaths since January 2021. Military reserves have been activated to prevent people from leaving cities or even buildings where outbreaks have been detected. Parts of Shanghai, China’s financial center, and its 26 million residents have been locked down. 

Things have gotten so bad that the government which has prided itself on the “zero-COVID” strategy, which maintains that authorities can limit the virus to zero spread whatsoever with proper measures, has reportedly been reconsidering pursuing the goal of zero-COVID. The strategy has become untenable as the virus proves that spread is inevitable, no matter how hard a police state may lock down.

In Hong Kong, authorities are preparing to finally begin relaxing some restrictions after the city faced its worst wave of the pandemic in throughout March. From September 2021 to Feb. 8 2022, Hong Kong reported zero COVID-19 deaths, their total death count remaining stagnant at 213 since the pandemic began. Now, just two months later, the total death count in the city stands at 7,825. Ninety-seven percent of the city’s deaths occurred in a two-month span, two years into the pandemic and more than a year after vaccines became available. (RELATED: Biden Administration Launches COVID.Gov Over 2 Years Into Pandemic)

Some experts have said South Korea had the best pandemic response in the world. Through strict surveillance and tracing tools, the country was able to pursue a zero-COVID strategy without resorting to the draconian lockdowns seen in many other places around the world. South Korea’s policies were highly invasive, with infected residents having their phone and credit card data tracked to retrace their movements, close contacts of the infected were required to isolate for two weeks with twice-a-day check-ins from government COVID-19 monitors, and individuals who got the virus were sent to government isolation facilities.

All of it appeared to be for naught in March 2022, with daily cases peaking at more than 621,000. The country’s death count more than doubled in March alone.

New Zealand set a new record high for COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, and its seven-day average death rate surpassed that of the U.S. this week for the first time during the pandemic.

South Korea and Hong Kong have the most per capita deaths in the world during the past seven days.

Many COVID-19 hawks in the U.S. and Europe praised the responses of places like New Zealand and South Korea. Zero-COVID advocates pointed to these countries as poster children for what was possible if only the government had the will to do what was right. Now, it appears that these jurisdictions are simply proving that the virus is inevitable, and beyond vaccination, there’s only so much that can be done to prevent mass spread and substantial death.