China retaliated on Wednesday over ‘irresponsible’ comments by the World Health Organization’s director-general, who branded China’s rigorous and increasingly harsh ‘zero COVID’ policy as ‘not sustainable.’
The strategy has restricted movement for hundreds of millions of people in dozens of cities, most notably in Shanghai, causing enormous economic damage in China and internationally and fueling widespread dissatisfaction.
Shanghai officials announced on Wednesday that half of the city had reached ‘zero COVID’ status, but that restrictions would remain in place. Shanghai has been under a widespread lockdown for the past six weeks.
China’s firm stance contrasts with the majority of the rest of the globe, whose governments have decided to live with the virus.
In a rare public statement on a government’s practises, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Tuesday that China’s zero-tolerance policy is unsustainable and that a change in strategy is needed. continue reading
Tedros’ remarks were ignored by China’s state media and blocked on social media, with the only official response coming at a normal foreign ministry press briefing.
Instead of making reckless remarks, we hope the relevant individual can examine Chinese COVID policy honestly and logically and know the facts,’ said spokesman Zhao Lijian.
Last week, Chinese leaders threatened retaliation against critics of the policy, which they claim ‘puts life first.’
Critics have previously accused the WHO of being too close to China, which the organisation rejects.
COVID has caused millions of deaths in other countries, according to China. Since the virus first appeared in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, the official death toll has been little over 5,000, significantly less than the roughly 1 million deaths in the United States.
Scientists in China and the United States have calculated that if China abandons its existing strategy without any safeguards, such as increased vaccine and treatment availability, there will be just over 1.5 million COVID fatalities.
Only half of China’s elderly are immunised.
Tedros’ comments were uploaded on Weibo by the United Nations, but were quickly removed from the Twitter-like platform. Requests for comment from the UN and Weibo were not returned. Another platform, WeChat, blocked the distribution of a similar UN post, alleging a ‘rules infringement.’
About the censorship, Fang Kecheng, a Chinese media researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said, ‘It shows that Beijing has zero tolerance for anyone who challenges its COVID-zero policy.’
‘This is a completely politicised issue, and any disagreeing viewpoint would be viewed as a challenge to the top leadership.’
Residents in China have used social media to voice their dissatisfaction with the limitations, with individuals playing a cat-and-mouse game with censors to share personal experiences of their difficulty.
Residents who have been unable to leave their houses have complained about lost income, food shortages, limited healthcare access, and unclean quarantine conditions.