China calls WHO remarks on ‘zero-COVID’ ‘irresponsible’

BEIJING — China on Wednesday defended sticking to its strict “zero-COVID” approach, calling the World Health Organization chief’s critical remarks “irresponsible.”

The Foreign Ministry’s response came after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had discussed with Chinese experts the need for a different approach in light of new knowledge about the virus.

“When we talk about ‘zero-COVID’, we don’t think it’s sustainable, given the current behavior of the virus and what we expect for the future,” Tedros said.

“The Chinese government’s epidemic prevention and control policy can stand the test of history, and our prevention and control measures are scientific and effective,” Zhao said. “China is one of the most successful countries in epidemic prevention and control in the world, which is evident to the entire international community.

Earlier on Wednesday, Shanghai Center for Disease Control Deputy Director Wu Huanyu reiterated the importance of the approach to eliminating a declining epidemic. He told reporters that while progress has been made, easing prevention and control measures could allow the virus to rebound.

“At the same time, it is also the most difficult and critical time for our city to achieve zero COVID, Wu said during a daily briefing.

Wu gave no indication that he was aware of Tedros’ comments.

Tedros was joined by Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, who said all actions to tackle the pandemic should “show due respect for individual and human rights”.

Countries must “balance the control measures, the impact on society, the impact on the economy. It’s not always an easy calibration to do,” Ryan said.

The incident marked a rare public display of friction between China and the WHO, which has been accused of succumbing to Chinese pressure to avoid criticism and embarrassing questions about the origins of the virus which was first detected. times in the central city of Wuhan in China at the end of 2019. .

China’s ruling Communist Party has strictly controlled all talk of its controversial approach, which aims to eradicate epidemics altogether, and said it would not tolerate any criticism, questioning or distortion of the strategy. Fully state-controlled media did not report on Tedros and Ryan’s comments and references to them on the Chinese internet appear to have been removed by censors.

The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-COVID has sparked considerable resentment in Shanghai, where some residents have been confined for more than a month. As of Wednesday, more than 2 million people in the city remained confined to their residential compounds, while restrictions were eased slightly for most of the other 23 million.

However, the easing now appears to be on hold, even as the number of new cases dwindles in the city that is home to China’s busiest port, main stock exchange and thousands of Chinese and foreign businesses. Residents in some areas have been ordered to stay home after being released for limited shopping in recent weeks. On Tuesday, service was suspended on the last two metro lines still in service.

Complaints have centered on shortages of food and other daily necessities and the forced removal of thousands of people to quarantine centers after testing positive or coming into contact with an infected person, standard procedure in the approach. zero-COVID from China.

Besides the human cost, embracing “zero-COVID” as many other countries ease restrictions and try to live with the virus is taking a heavy toll on the economy.

Chinese experts such as Wu have been careful to toe the party line, saying the strategy has been effective in limiting the official death toll in mainland China and that any loosening risks triggering another major surge.

The daily number of new cases in Shanghai reported on Wednesday had fallen to less than 1,500, from a peak of 26,000 in mid-April. Seven more deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported, bringing the toll of the outbreak to 560.

While China says more than 88% of its population is fully vaccinated, the rate is considerably lower among vulnerable older people. Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of vaccines produced in China compared to those from Europe and the United States.

In the capital Beijing, residents have been ordered to undergo mass testing in a bid to prevent a major outbreak like the one in Shanghai. The city, which reported 37 new cases on Wednesday, locked down individual buildings and residential compounds, closed about 60 subway stations and banned eating in restaurants, allowing only takeout and delivery.

The sprawling Forbidden City museum complex, the former residence of China’s ancient emperors, will also close from Thursday to “reduce the danger of virus transmission in society posed by the movement of people”, he said. said in a statement.

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