Three weeks after China’s abrupt exit from stringent “zero-COVID” restrictions, one thing has become clear: Long-awaited freedom from draconian virus rules has come at a tremendous cost.

Indeed, the lifting of the world’s strictest pandemic rules has brought an explosive surge of infections, drug shortages, disruptions to everyday life, and confusion and frustration among the population.

For the past three years, the Chinese government resorted to quick and harsh lockdowns, compulsory centralized quarantines and mass testing to contain the virus. But following a nationwide uprising against the onerous restrictions, the country’s response has shifted from zero-COVID to a “living with the virus” approach, which aims to prevent severe illness.