Shanghai reaffirms “zero-COVID”; WHO says not sustainable

BEIJING (AP) — Shanghai reaffirmed on Wednesday that it would maintain the “zero-COVID” approach to eliminating a declining epidemic in China’s largest city after the head of the World Health Organization said that it was not sustainable and urged China to change its strategy.

Although progress has been made, the relaxation of prevention and control measures could allow the virus to rebound, deputy director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control Wu Huanyu told reporters.

“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.

“If we slack off our vigilance, the epidemic may rebound, so it is necessary to persistently implement the prevention and control work tirelessly,” he said.

Wu gave no indication that he was aware of comments from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he had spoken with Chinese experts about the need to move to a new approach in light of the news. 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 told a news conference. tuesday.

“And especially when we now have a good knowledge, a good understanding of the virus and when we have good tools to use, the transition to another strategy will be very important,” he said.

Tedros was joined by Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, who said all actions to combat 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.

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. 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.

Teams in white protective gear have started entering the homes of infected people to spray disinfectant, raising concerns about property damage. Residents have in some cases been ordered to leave their keys with a community volunteer when taken to quarantine so sanitizers can enter, a new requirement that has no apparent legal basis.

People in some areas have been ordered to stay at home after being released for limited purchases 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 China’s zero-COVID approach.

With the human cost, adherence to “zero-COVID” as many more countries ease restrictions and try to live with the virus, the economic cost rises.

However, the party led by leader Xi Jinping shows no signs of backing down from efforts to secure stability and strengthen its authority ahead of a major party congress this fall.

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. to just over 5,000 throughout the pandemic, according to the government’s National Health Commission, and that any loosening risks triggering another major surge.

Ryan gave the death toll in China at just over 15,000 and the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center offers a figure of 14,538. These figures combine deaths in mainland China with those in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong, which has recorded nearly 10,000 deaths despite strict restrictions, and in autonomous Taiwan, which is excluded from the WHO and other United Nations organizations and has recorded nearly 1,000 deaths by COVID as part of a more relaxed approach.

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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