Chinese provincial government responses to COVID-19

Blavatnik School working paper
Abstract

BSG-WP-2021/041 

The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) records Chinese provincial governments’ policy responses to COVID-19 since 1 January 2020 on a daily basis. Relying on publicly available materials, we track Chinese provinces’ policies on closure and containment, health, and economic support, including 20 individual indicators and four aggregated indices. The data show stringent provincial policies across China in the early months of 2020, followed by the localisation of restrictions in response to small outbreaks in subsequent months.

The data also track China’s vaccination rollout, which has followed a different ordering of population groups than most other countries. The freely available data provide a tool to analyse government responses in a global pandemic at a granular level.

Key points

  • All provinces implemented policy responses that were at the high or very high stringency level during the early months of 2020, regardless of their own epidemiological conditions, demonstrating a pattern of policy convergence.
  • Provincial policy responses have diversified since the second half of 2020, following localised outbreaks. In provincial-level jurisdictions where local transmission was identified, such as Beijing, Heilongjiang, Xinjiang, Hebei, and Jilin, the stringency of policy responses rapidly rose to a high level. However, in provinces without local transmission, the stringency level declined to a medium to low level.
  • Throughout the period of analysis, Chinese provinces have maintained a baseline of light measures and guidelines, such as testing and mask mandates.
  • Provincial governments have significant autonomy to choose their own policies according to a centrally defined tiered-risk system. For example, some provinces implemented measures to prevent the risks associated with the 2021 Chinese New Year travel season, others did not elevate their stringency level if no local transmission was found.
  • China’s vaccination policy demonstrates a striking difference to other countries, in terms of the sequence of rolling out vaccination programmes. Between January and March 2021, the focus was on key groups like cold-chain workers and key areas like border regions. In most provinces, elderly people were encouraged to receive vaccines after appointments being made broadly available to people aged between 18 and 59 across the first half of 2021.