WHO chief Tedros Adhanom calls China’s ‘zero covid’ unsustainable and is censored

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When the head of the World Health Organization called China’s hardline ‘zero covid’ policy not ‘sustainable’, the backlash in China on Wednesday was swift – his comments were censored and he was called “irresponsible”.

Chinese authorities have blocked debate over its controversial approach of constantly seeking zero coronavirus infections through draconian lockdowns. The researchers warned that dropping the policy would trigger a “tsunami” of coronavirus cases.

During a Tuesday briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on China to rethink its tough covid controls in light of the more transmissible variant of the omicron coronavirus.

“We don’t think it’s sustainable, given the behavior of the virus and what we expect for the future,” he said, adding that the health body had discussed the matter with experts. Chinese. “We have indicated that the approach will not be sustainable. … A change would be very important.

Unvaccinated elderly in China prevent end of covid lockdowns

The comment from Tedros, once seen as an ally of Beijing, is a setback for China, which has staunchly defended its “dynamic compensation” covid policy. In April, China’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s coronavirus controls were in line with WHO principles and that the health body speaks “highly” about it.

Following his comments, the hashtags “World Health Organization” and “Tedros” were blocked on the Weibo microblog. Messaging platform WeChat banned the sharing of an article from the United Nations WeChat Official Account that included the director’s comments. He also deleted a video clip of his remarks due to “a violation” of the terms of service.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press conference on Wednesday called on Tedros to avoid making “irresponsible” remarks and to view China’s coronavirus policy “objectively”.

Online discussion of Tedros’ statement was also restricted on Wednesday. “I thought maybe Tedros was speaking on behalf of an international organization to give Her Majesty a way out,” one user wrote in a comment, referring to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. “Seeing all those deleted messages, I now see that I was overthinking [their friendship].”

“What a shame it’s soon to be 404-ed,” wrote another user on Weibo, referring to the code given when deleting the content. “After so many years, he finally said something that makes sense.” Underneath a post on the WHO’s Weibo account, another person wrote, “Thank you for speaking the truth.”

China’s no-tolerance covid policy aims to stop transmission of the coronavirus through lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines. Shanghai, home to 25 million people, has been under lockdown for nearly six weeks as the country experiences its worst outbreak since the start of 2020.

Faced with growing criticism from citizens forced into ill-equipped quarantine centers or stuck at home struggling to find food and medical care, China’s top leaders said last week there would be no easing of zero-covid measures and that they would fight all efforts to “distort, doubt or deny” government policies.

Officials cite the country’s low immunization rate among the elderly — 82% of adults over 60 have been fully vaccinated and just over half of residents over 80 are immune — as one of the main reasons why he cannot allow the coronavirus to spread. The prevalence of vaccines that have been shown to be less effective against the omicron variant has also made the population more vulnerable.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers from Fudan University and the United States estimated that the omicron variant, if allowed to spread unchecked in China, could cause more than 1.5 million deaths between May and July.

The researchers said a vaccination campaign in March was “insufficient” to prevent a wave of omicron variant cases from overwhelming the hospital system, but mitigation policies such as vaccinations, antiviral therapies, testing and wearing masks could reduce the death toll.

On Wednesday, Chinese state media ignored the WHO director’s comments, instead publishing articles citing the WHO’s May 5 report on the excess deaths caused by the coronavirus between January 1, 2020 and the December 31, 2021.

A People’s Daily article on Wednesday also did not mention the comment but defended the country’s approach by hailing its low death rate and economic growth, adding that China must “fully adhere” to the policy. dynamic compensation.

Hu Xijin, a former editor of the state-run Global Times, tried to temper the focus on the WHO director’s remark.

He wrote on Weibo: “It’s no secret that some people think China’s dynamic compensation policy is unsustainable. The fact that the director general of the World Health Organization has said publicly that it’s not worth making a fuss about.

Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, and Lyric Li in Seoul contributed to this report.

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