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

BEIJING (AP) — Shanghai on Wednesday reaffirmed China’s strict “zero-COVID” approach to fighting the pandemic, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said it was not not sustainable and urged China to change its strategy.

As China’s largest city has made progress in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak, any easing of prevention and control measures could allow it to rebound, the deputy director of the Control Center told reporters. Shanghai Diseases, Wu Huanyu.

“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 he was aware of comments from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he had been in discussions with Chinese experts about the need to move to a new 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 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 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.

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.

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.

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 to just over 5,000 during the entire pandemic, according to the Commission. national government health, and that any let-up risks triggering another major surge.

Ryan put the death toll in China at just over 15,000 and the Johns Hopkins Medical University Coronavirus Resource Center offers a figure of 14,538.

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.

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