Shanghai Reaffirms “Zero-COVID”; WHO says not sustainable

BEIJING — Shanghai on Wednesday reiterated China’s strict “zero-COVID” approach to pandemic control, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said it was unsustainable, and urged China to change its strategies.

While China’s largest city has made progress in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak, any relaxation of prevention and control measures could allow a recovery, deputy director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control Wu Huanyu told reporters.

“At the same time, now is also the most difficult and critical moment for our city to achieve zero-COVID,” Wu said at a daily briefing.

“Should we relax our vigilance, the epidemic could flare up again, so it is necessary to persevere in implementing the prevention and control work without relaxing,” he said.

Wu gave no indication that he was aware of comments by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he had held talks with Chinese experts about the need to move to a new approach amid new knowledge about the virus.

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“When we talk about ‘zero COVID,’ we don’t think it’s sustainable given how the virus is behaving now and what we expect to happen in the future,” Tedros said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“And especially if we now have a good knowledge and understanding of the virus and if we have good tools at our disposal, the transition to a different strategy will be very important,” he said.

Tedros was joined by WHO’s head of emergencies, Mike Ryan, who said any action taken to combat the pandemic should “duely respect individual rights and human rights”.

Countries must “balance the control measures, the impact on society and the impact on the economy. It’s not always an easy calibration,” Ryan said.

China’s ruling Communist Party has tightly controlled any discussion of its controversial approach aimed at eradicating outbreaks entirely, saying it would not tolerate criticism. The fully state-controlled media did not report Tedros and Ryan’s comments, and references to them on the Chinese internet appeared to have been removed by censorship.

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The reckless and often chaotic implementation of Zero-COVID has sparked significant resentment in Shanghai, where some residents have been under quarantine for more than a month. As of Wednesday, more than 2 million people in the city remained confined to their residential areas, while restrictions were eased slightly on most of the other 23 million.

However, the easing now appears to be on hold, even as the number of new cases in the city, which is home to China’s busiest port, the main stock exchange and thousands of Chinese and foreign companies, falls.

Teams in white hazmat suits have started entering the homes of infected people to spray disinfectant, prompting fears of property damage. In some cases, residents have been ordered to leave their keys with a community volunteer if they are taken into quarantine to allow disinfection workers to get inside, a new requirement that appears to have no legal basis.

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In some areas, people have been ordered to stay home again after being restricted from shopping in recent weeks. Operations on the last two subway lines still in operation were suspended on Tuesday.

Complaints centered on shortages of food and other basic necessities and the forced deportation of thousands of people to quarantine centers after they tested positive or had contact with an infected person, a standard procedure in China’s zero-COVID approach.

Beyond the human cost, sticking to “zero-COVID” is taking a growing economic toll as many other countries ease restrictions and try to live with the virus.

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However, the party led by leader Xi Jinping shows no signs of retreating amid efforts to ensure stability and consolidate its authority ahead of a major party convention in the fall.

Chinese experts like Wu have been careful to stick to the party line, according to the government’s National Health Commission, saying the strategy has capped the official death toll at just over 5,000 over the course of the entire pandemic — up risking a new big surge.

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

The daily number of new cases reported in Shanghai on Wednesday had fallen to less than 1,500 from a peak of 26,000 in mid-April. Seven more COVID-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the number of deaths from the outbreak to 560.

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While China says more than 88% of its population is fully vaccinated, the rate is significantly lower among the vulnerable elderly. Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of Chinese-made vaccines compared to those made in Europe and the United States.

In the capital Beijing, residents have been ordered to undergo mass testing to prevent a larger outbreak like the one in Shanghai. The city, which reported 37 new cases on Wednesday, has placed individual buildings and condominiums under lockdown, closed about 60 subway stations and banned dining at restaurants, leaving only takeout and delivery allowed.

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/11/shanghai-reaffirms-zero-covid-who-says-not-sustainable/ Shanghai Reaffirms “Zero-COVID”; WHO says not sustainable

Joel McCord

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