Covid-19 first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, with the first mass outbreak starting there in January 2020. According to media reports, the earliest cases (though not ‘Patient Zero’) could be traced to as early as 17 November 2019.1 A historically unprecedented lockdown of an entire city of 11 million people and, slightly later, an entire province was imposed on 23 January 2020. 2 The lockdown measures were so severe and strict that they were described by the World Health Organization’s country representative to China, Dr Gauden Galee, as ‘new to science’ that ‘has not been tried before as a public health measure.’3 Various restrictions were also imposed nationwide from January to April 2020. Through these lockdown measures, China seemed to have controlled the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic by early April 2020 when Wuhan began lifting its strictest lockdown measures including the blockage of outbound traffic. On 7 April 2020, the Central Leading Group for the Prevention and Control of Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Epidemic and the State Council Joint Mechanism for the Prevention and Control of Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Epidemic each released its guidelines on resumption of work in China. 4 By June 2020, China had declared a ‘decisive victory’ over the pandemic and a return to normality, albeit with ongoing prevention and control.5
Unfortunately, this declaration of a ‘decisive victory’ seems to have been made prematurely; isolated cases were to pop up continuously in various parts of China, with considerably large numbers of cases re-emerging in several cities in Northern China in November/December 2020. Like all other countries, the fight against the pandemic is ongoing in China. As of 20 March 2021, official statistics suggest that mainland China had 165 active cases, but none with severe symptoms. In total, there had been 4,636 deaths and 90,099 confirmed cases.6
This report principally focuses on the responses to the first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak in Hubei Province (January to April 2020), during which the great majority of legal and policy measures were issued. Similar measures were often implemented in other cities in Mainland China whenever Covid-19 cases were discovered. We have, however, also covered measures and policies issued after the suppression of the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis, as these can be seen as measures and policies for Covid-19-normal times that are likely to be with us for some considerable time to come.
At least in the initial stage, the fight against the epidemic was largely carried through ad hoc Party—the Communist Party of China (CPC)—and government orders, issued mostly at the various local levels. There is however a comprehensive national legal framework governing public health emergencies, a framework that was largely ignored at the initial stage of the fight against the Covid-19 crisis.7
It should be pointed out that this report does not engage in discussion or debate on the origin of Covid-19; the authors believe that the origin of Covid-19 should be treated as an issue of science that is best addressed by scientists rather than lawyers.
5 State Council Information Office, Fighting Covid-19: China in Action (7 June 2020) (hereinafter ‘China Covid-19 White Paper’). This White Paper was issued in Chinese but was translated into English and other languages. However, the official English translation is very inaccurate and unreliable and, for all practical purposes unusable. For this reason, this Report only uses the Chinese version as the original source of policies and practice.
9 A Gu, The Construction of a Socialist Legal System and Legislative Work (Shehui Zhuyi Fazhi Jianshe He Lifa Gongzuo) (Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press 1989) 50.
10 B Jiang (et al) (eds), Constitutional Law (Xianfa Xue) (Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press 1993) 5.
14 Originally adopted in 1979, revised in 1982, 1986, 1995, 2004, 2010, 2015, and 2020.
21 J Chen, Chinese Law: Context and Transformation (2nd edn, Leiden/Boston: Brill Nijhoff 2016) ch 3.
28 Article 67(20) under the Constitution as revised in 2004 is now article 67(21) after the 2018 Constitution revision.
54 On the impossibility of suing the CPC, see J Chen, Chinese Law: Context and Transformation (2nd edn, Leiden/Boston: Brill Nijhoff 2016) 333.
69 ‘China: Seekers of Covid-19 Redress Harassed’, Human Rights Watch (6 January 2021); J Carrick and Y Bennett, ‘How China is controlling the COVID origins narrative — silencing critics and locking up dissenters’, The Conversation (13 January 2021); V Wang, A Qin, and S Wee, ‘Coronavirus Survivors Want Answers, and China Is Silencing Them’ The New York Times (Online, 7 May 2020); T Mitchell, S Yu, X Liu, and M Peel, ‘China and Covid-19: what went wrong in Wuhan?’ Financial Times (Online, 18 October 2020); E Fu,‘Chinese Citizens Sue Wuhan Officials Over Virus Coverup, Calling Mayor a “Murderer”’, The Epoch Times (29 August 2020); E Pils, ‘China’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Fighting Two Enemies’, Verfassungsblog (25 May 2020).
74 ‘Under China’s lockdown, millions have nowhere to go’, Reuters, (Online, 14 February 2020); P Renninger, 'The "People's Total War on Covid-19": Urban Pandemic Management Through (Non-)Law in Wuhan, China' (2020) 30(1) Washington International Law Journal 63-115.
81 The text of the Notice issued by the Wuhan Command Centre on the Prevention and Control of the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Epidemic on 14 February is no longer available online.
84 The most comprehensive collection of lockdown measures in China seems to be Wikipedia (Chinese), ‘Lockdown Measures against Covid-19 in China’ (accessed 20 March 2021); Wikipedia (Chinese), ‘China’s Responses to Covid-19 and Their Impact’ (accessed 20 March 2021). These entries introduce the measures in chronological order, with links to the original documents/reports or archive if the original resources are no longer available. We acknowledge that we have obtained many of the original documents from these two entries.
147 See, eg, H Davidson, ‘China's coronavirus health code apps raise concerns over privacy’ The Guardian (Online, 1 April 2020); R Zhong, ‘China’s Virus Apps May Outlast the Outbreak, Stirring Privacy Fears’ The New York Times (Online, 26 May 2020); C Sheng and Z He, ‘Is China’s ‘Health Code’ Here to Stay?’, The Diplomat (18 July 2020); and K Shen, W Wang, and C Hong, ‘The Difficult Balance Between Privacy and Public Health in China’s Fight Against the Epidemic’, Boya Gongfa (13 July 2020).
159 F Jiang and C Xie, ‘Roles of Chinese Police Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic’ (2020) 14 Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice 1127, state that ‘[t]here were a variety of governmental, commercial, and social forces participating in enforcing the quarantine, including neighbourhood resident committee (NRC) staff (with governmental characters), the grid-workers (Wangge Yuan, frontline agents hired by the NRCs), private security personnel (Bao’an, hired by the property management organizations), organised volunteers, and community police officers’.