Over the past week, dozens of county-level governments in at least eight provinces have published notices warning citizens they have until late July or early August to receive their vaccinations, after which they will face a variety of restrictions on everyday life.
Shao Yiming, an epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state media that given the protection rate of Chinese vaccines is below 100%, China will need to fully vaccinate 80% to 85% of residents, equivalent to 1 billion of the country’s 1.4 total population, in order to meet the December deadline.
With China having largely contained the virus’ spread, many residents initially saw little need to get vaccinated. A history of safety scandals involving domestic vaccines also contributed to public hesitancy. However, several recent local outbreaks, including in the northern Anhui and Liaoning provinces, and Guangdong in the south, have fueled fears of infection, prompting a rush to get vaccinated in affected regions.
The all-out campaign has seen government workers descending on neighborhoods in efforts to convince people to get vaccinated, with vaccination sites offering benefits, ranging from shopping vouchers to free groceries and ice cream.
But experts cautioned that many residents who have yet to receive a single dose would be harder to reach, especially in rural areas, leading local governments to take more drastic measures to ensure herd immunity.
“All those strategies they used to entice people to get their vaccine … may not work in this next stage of vaccination efforts,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Making it mandatory may be the only workable solution to the problem,” he added.
Bans on entry
In the first two weeks of July, at least 50 counties across 12 Chinese provinces issued notices warning of strengthened measures to encourage unvaccinated citizens to get their shots, adding that “not being vaccinated will affect life and going out.”
To date, notices of new measures have been posted in Sichuan, Fujian, Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Anhui, Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Zhejiang and Inner Mongolia.
Most of the areas imposing the measures are relatively small by Chinese standards — the largest is Zaozhuang City in Shandong province, which has a population of 4.2 million people. The first of the measures was announced on July 8 with new notices still being posted as of Friday.
The policies vary greatly from place to place — in 33 of the counties, the authorities said vaccination records will be checked on entry to public facilities, including administrative buildings and health facilities, and citizens who have not received their shot will be encouraged to do so.
But in 19 counties, the local governments have explicitly warned that within weeks, unvaccinated citizens could be banned from a wide range of public places and services.
“Starting from July 17, in principle, people who have not been vaccinated … are not allowed to enter key places such as inpatient departments of hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries etc.,” said a notice posted in Sichuan’s Jingyan district, adding it would make an exception for those with a legitimate health reason for avoiding the vaccine. The notice also said unvaccinated supermarket employees and market stall owners would be barred from their jobs.
In a few counties the measures are even more extreme. In Guangxi, two cities — Guiping and Beiliu — both said students would not be allowed to go to school unless both of their parents were fully vaccinated. After vocal opposition on social media, the notices were deleted although it is unclear if the restrictions will still apply.
And in Tanghe county, in Henan province, state media reported that local government agencies would stop paying employees, or workers at state-owned enterprises if they refused to get vaccinated.
Test balloon or official pressure?
Similarly, the Australian government has mandated all aged care workers must have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot by mid-September.