It is a tense moment for local government officials in China, especially those in border areas. Their political future is at the mercy of a virus that can travel swiftly through different jurisdictions and may be impossible to eradicate. The central government has insisted on a zero tolerance approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the health of 1.4 billion citizens is paramount. And it is not taking any excuses. As a result, local authorities have a duty to “defend the land” and prevent any outbreaks from spreading beyond their area of control. Under such heavy pressure from the top, local governments have been forced to maximise every tool available to them to restrict people as soon as a case is reported. In certain regions, sometimes this has led to novel or harsh approaches. Yanshan county, in Jiangxi province, ordered all its traffic lights turned red so vehicles could not move around. It only relaxed the rule after the directive went viral on the Chinese internet. Heihe, which borders Russia, said the health codes of all residents in the city would be changed to “yellow” until its current outbreak ends. In China, yellow is of medium exposure risk and must remain at home. A green code indicates the holder is not under quarantine and can move freely. Ruili , a town on the Chinese border with Myanmar, has been in lockdown for about seven months this year, despite growing signs of despair and frustration among residents. For sure, these are only tiny spots on China’s economic landscape. Taking a national view, the inconveniences imposed on areas with Covid-19 outbreaks may be worth it, as they buy time and space for other parts of the country to remain open. In bigger and better resourced cities like Shanghai, control measures can be more targeted and precise, while testing is more efficient. Shenzhen and Guangzhou, two wealthy cities in the Greater Bay Area , also have a track record of quickly getting small outbreaks under control and regaining social and economic normality. However, Shanghai and Shenzhen are exceptions in China, as most of the population live in smaller cities. Though these latest outbreaks will eventually be suppressed like the ones that have gone before, it is also increasingly clear the costs of maintaining a zero tolerance approach to Covid-19 is being felt more keenly at local levels.