China’s zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy is not sustainable for what is known about the disease, the head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, in rare public comments by the UN agency on its handling of the virus.
“We don’t think this is sustainable given the behavior of the virus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing.
Speaking after Tedros, WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan said the impact of the “zero-COVID” policy on human rights should also be taken into account along with the impact on the country’s economy.
He also noted that China has recorded 15,000 deaths since the virus first emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 – a relatively low number compared to 999,475 in the United States and more than 500,000 in India.
With that in mind, it is understandable that one of the world’s most populous countries would want to take stringent measures to contain coronavirus infections, Ryan said.
WHO guidelines have never recommended mass screening of asymptomatic individuals – as is currently happening in China – due to the costs involved and the lack of data on its effectiveness.
Still a ‘critical period’: Chinese official
China’s zero-COVID-19 policy has drawn criticism from scientists to its own citizens, leading to a cycle of lockdowns of many millions. Under the policy, officials lock down areas with large populations to stamp out viral spread in response to any coronavirus outbreak, even if very few people test positive.
Shanghai, with a population of 25 million, was ending its sixth week of a city-wide lockdown.
Shanghai’s measures have been particularly strict, with residents only allowed out of compounds for exceptional reasons, such as a medical emergency. Many people are not even allowed to exit their front door.
Its quarantine policy has also been criticized for separating children from parents and keeping asymptomatic cases among those with symptoms.
Beijing reported 59 new local COVID-19 cases during the past 24 hours, a disease control official there said on Tuesday.
Pang Tsinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, told a news briefing that the city had reported a total of 836 local COVID-19 cases from April 22 until 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday.
The capital has not seen its daily number of cases exceed several dozen since its latest outbreak began on April 22. But reducing them has also become difficult.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Shanghai has been declining for almost two weeks, but remains in the thousands and restrictions are tightened.
“We are still in an important phase of epidemic prevention,” said Sun Xiaodong, deputy director of the Municipal Center for Disease Control.
major economic impact
China has been constrained by the fact that its strict epidemic-prolonging approach left populations with low acquired immunity through infection, spread by highly transmissible oomicron variants. Contrary to what has been observed in most developed countries, the working-age population has higher rates of vaccination than the generally more vulnerable groups of senior citizens.
It is having a huge impact on the world’s second largest economy, with a significant impact on global trade and supply chains.
look | Latest COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday from WHO officials:
China’s export growth hit its weakest level in nearly two years, data showed on Monday. Unemployment was also near a two-year high.
US automaker Tesla has halted most of its production at its Shanghai plant because of problems securing parts, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. Tesla had planned to ramp up production to pre-lockdown levels by the end of last week next week.
Tesla’s suppliers are facing difficulties, sources said on Monday, with wire harness maker Aptiv after an infection was found in its employees.