In early December with protests growing and coronavirus spreading, China abruptly abandoned its zero-Covid policy, in effect letting the virus run through its population of 1.4 billion people.
As Tania Branigan tells Michael Safi the effects have been extraordinary: in a country not well vaccinated and with limited numbers of ICU beds, especially away from large cities, it has been devastating.
At the weekend, authorities admitted that at least 60,000 people had died in hospitals in the current wave so far, but experts believe the true number of total deaths is likely to be much higher.
Now the country is preparing for its lunar new year celebrations that officially start on 21 January and involve the world’s largest annual migration of people. About 2bn trips are expected to be made and tens of millions of people have begun to travel – although they have been urged not to visit their elderly relatives, in order to prevent them becoming infected.