(CNN) – The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) is being censored on China’s internet after questioning the sustainability of the country’s zero-Covid policy.
Censorship on Weibo and WeChat, China’s two biggest social media platforms, is targeting WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ comments expressing rare disapproval of Beijing’s policies.
“When we talk about the zero Covid strategy, we don’t think it’s sustainable given how the virus is behaving now and what we expect for the future,” Tedros said in a media briefing on Tuesday, referencing the increased portability of Omicron.
“We discussed this issue with Chinese experts and indicated that the approach will not be sustainable… I think a postponement will be very important,” he said.
The criticism of Tedros, the has been accused of being too close to China earlier in the pandemic, came just days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping promised to double to politics and fight “resolutely” against all critics.
The United Nations’ official press account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo published Tedro’s comments early Wednesday morning, drawing a spate of sarcastic comments from Chinese users.
“Fight firmly against all words and actions that distort, doubt or deny our country’s epidemic prevention and control policies! Down with the World Health Organization!” said a top response.
“Should the UN verified account be banned this time?” said another.
By mid-morning, the post was no longer visible on Weibo “due to the author’s privacy settings.” It is unclear under what circumstances the setting was changed.
A Weibo hashtag featuring Tedros’ name was also censored, with images featuring his face scrubbed from the platform, although posts featuring his name are still visible.
On WeChat, an article from the official UN account containing comments from Tedros was “not shared due to violation of relevant laws and regulations” on Wednesday morning. Video clips of Tedros’ speech have also been removed from the platform.
While Tedros’ comments are consistent with most scholars’ assessments, they have also drawn the wrath of Beijing, which has called them “irresponsible.”
“We hope relevant people can view China’s epidemic prevention and control policy in an objective and rational manner, learn more about the facts and refrain from making irresponsible remarks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news conference on Wednesday.
China’s zero-tolerance approach of lockdown, mass testing and quarantine has protected the majority of its population from Covid over the past two years, but has drawn growing dissent as lockdowns become more stringent and frequent amid Omicron’s rapid spread.
Shanghai is the country’s most populous and cosmopolitan city rocked by a six-week lockdown that has sparked a public outcrywhile the capital Beijing has closed schools and restaurants and conducted frequent mass testing contain its outbreak. Elsewhere, local governments are increasingly imposing rapid lockdowns in response to just a handful of cases.
However, the Chinese leadership has insisted on the strict measures, saying that an easing will “inevitably lead to large-scale infections, a large number of serious illnesses and deaths” due to the large number of elderly people and insufficient medical resources in the country.
New models from researchers, mostly from Fudan University in Shanghai, predicted that China could face over 1.5 million omicron deaths if its zero-Covid measures were lifted without increased vaccine coverage or access to antiviral therapies.
Published Tuesday by the journal Nature MedicineThe peer-reviewed study found that based on immunity levels in March, an uncontrolled Omicron wave would exceed critical care capacity across the country and cause 112.2 million symptomatic cases.
The study estimates that in the event of an uncontrolled omicron outbreak, China’s national healthcare system would be completely overwhelmed, as demand for the country’s 64,000 ICU beds would exceed supply by 15.6 times for a period of at least 44 days.
But that scenario could be avoided, according to modeling, if the Chinese government focuses on improving “access to vaccines and antiviral therapies.”
More than 88% of Chinese are fully vaccinated, but immunization is much lower among the elderly. As of March 17, only half of people over 80 in China had been fully vaccinated, and fewer than 20% of this vulnerable age group had received a booster shot. Unlike most countries, China’s vaccination campaigns did not initially prioritize the elderly.
Since the recent outbreak, Chinese officials have vowed to speed up vaccination among the elderly. But in lockdown areas it’s virtually impossible to get vaccinated as residents are confined to their homes and only allowed to go out for Covid tests.
The CNN Wire
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