"Zero COVID" China kept me from my wife for 662 days

During this period of isolation, which eventually stretched to five weeks across two cities, I came to the conclusion that Chinese quarantines are a form of torture: Throughout, I was in the open air for no more than 10 minutes. My visitors were mainly health officers who performed COVID tests. (I had 14 in all.) Sometimes these were administered with unnecessary harshness—wooden swabs jammed roughly into sensitive nasal tissue, or deep into the throat, inducing gagging and choking, often multiple times. I could speak with people by phone, but in many respects I was in solitary confinement.

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I began to exhibit symptoms of the abused: recurring irrational bouts of terror for what might come, extreme lethargy that caused a loss of will and concentration, uncontrolled agitation and feelings of hostility toward my oppressors. I found myself literally counting the hours down to my release, and worrying that it wouldn’t happen.

Was all of that isolation necessary to protect the public? A study by America’s CDC suggests that the incubation period of the Omicron variant (the one now plaguing China) is two to five days. If my third and fourth COVID tests were negative, what were the chances I’d be positive on rounds seven and eight? (Let alone 14.) After two weeks locked up in my initial Shanghai hotel, the staff tested my mobile phone for COVID. I fully understand the need for extra caution. I also understand that much of zero COVID is a state protecting itself.

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