China calls WHO chief ‘irresponsible’ for saying zero COVID strategy ‘not sustainable’

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A resident and a child look through gaps in barriers at a closed residential area during the lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Shanghai, China May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Aly song

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  • WHO’s Tedros says China’s COVID policy ‘is not sustainable’
  • China calls Tedros’ remarks ‘irresponsible’
  • Half of Shanghai achieves zero COVID status, but brakes remain

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, May 11 (Reuters) – China hit back on Wednesday against what it said were “irresponsible” comments from the head of the World Health Organization, who called the “zero COVID” policy uncompromising and increasingly painful country of “unsustainable”. “

The policy has placed hundreds of millions of people in dozens of cities under varying degrees of movement restrictions, most dramatically in Shanghai, causing significant economic damage in China and beyond and fueling widespread frustration.

Officials in Shanghai, now in its sixth week under a sweeping lockdown, said Wednesday that half of the city had achieved “zero COVID” status, but restrictions would remain in place.

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China’s no-compromise approach contrasts with most other parts of the world, where governments have chosen to live with the virus.

In rare public comments on a government’s policies, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday that China’s zero-tolerance strategy was unsustainable and that it was time for change. of approach. Read more

Tedros’ comments were not covered in Chinese state media and were censored on social media, with the only official response coming at a regular Foreign Ministry press conference.

“We hope the relevant person can view China’s COVID policy objectively and rationally and know the facts, instead of making irresponsible remarks,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

Last week, Chinese leaders threatened to take action against critics of the policy, which authorities say “puts lives first”.

Critics of the WHO have previously accused the UN agency of being too close to China, which the WHO denies.

China pointed to the millions of deaths caused by COVID in other countries. Its official death toll since the virus emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 is just over 5,000, well below the nearly one million deaths in the United States.

New modeling by scientists in China and the United States predicts a risk of just over 1.5 million COVID deaths if China abandons its current policy without any safeguards such as scaling up vaccinations and access to treatment. Read more

Only half of the over-80s in China are vaccinated.

A United Nations Weibo post of Tedros’ comments was removed from the Twitter-like platform shortly after it was posted. The United Nations and Weibo did not respond to requests for comment. WeChat, another platform, disabled the sharing of a similar message from the UN, citing a “violation of the rules”.

“It shows that Beijing has zero tolerance for anyone who challenges its COVID-zero policy,” Fang Kecheng, a Chinese media researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said of the censorship.

“This issue has been fully politicized and any dissenting opinion would be seen as a challenge to senior management.”

Chinese social media has nonetheless been an important way for residents to express their resentment over the restrictions, with users playing cat-and-mouse with censors to share personal accounts of their struggles.

Residents unable to leave their homes have complained of loss of income, difficulty sourcing food, insufficient access to healthcare and unsanitary quarantine conditions.

KICKBACK HAZARD

Data showed that Shanghai, home to 25 million people, recorded no cases outside the areas with the strictest restrictions on Tuesday for the first time since May 1. Half of the city’s 16 districts had achieved zero COVID status having recorded no such cases for three days.

Still, officials said now was not the time to loosen the curbs.

“The risk of a rebound remains,” said Zhao Dandan, deputy director of the Shanghai health commission.

The lockdown was tightening, with the city making what it hoped would be a last ditch effort to stamp out infections before easing restrictions, potentially by the end of the month.

A growing number of residents in previously less strictly closed off areas of Shanghai have seen new fences erected around their homes in recent days and received notices telling them they will no longer be allowed out.

Shanghai’s latest daily tally of 1,487 new infections was the lowest since March 23.

In Beijing, many businesses were shuttered and large numbers of people worked from home as the city tried to end an outbreak that has seen 56 new cases in the past 24 hours. Read more

CRITICAL SUPPLIES

The Shanghai lockdown has tested manufacturers’ ability to operate under COVID restrictions, with Tesla’s Shanghai factory operating well below capacity this week due to issues securing parts. Read more

Auto sales in China fell 47.6% year-on-year in April, data showed on Wednesday. Read more

The impact on the supply of essential goods has been considerable.

Some of the largest US hospitals said on Tuesday they were facing critical shortages of products used in CT scans, X-rays and radiography due to reduced production in Shanghai.

General Electric’s healthcare unit (GE.N) said on Tuesday it had increased production of chemicals used for medical analysis and testing at its plant in Ireland to compensate for the fact that its Shanghai plant is not operating. at full capacity. Read more

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Reports from the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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