China has taken a major step in suggesting it is willing to co-exist with Covid-19 after it's meticulous approach to the virus was branded "unsustainable" by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
An enraged foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the remarks from WHO's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus "irresponsible" and revealed China's relentless Covid-zero strategy did not mean Beijing's goal was to completely eradicate the virus.
"China’s dynamic zero-Covid policy is not aimed at realising zero infection, but rather at bringing Covid-19 under control at the minimum social cost in the shortest time possible," he said.
Mr Zhao said such a strategy allowed China to "effectively protect the health, normal life and production of the 1.4 billion Chinese people to the maximum".
It's a landmark moment and significant shift in narrative from Beijing – a government which has thrown hundreds of millions of people in lockdown while testing entire cities for the virus in recent months in an uncompromising bid to stamp out any trace of the virus.
Yet frustrated residents in Shanghai will beg to differ China is willing to allow infection in the community, with increasing discontent over the draconian lockdown implemented on the city of 26 million people at a time large parts of the world transition to living with Covid-19.
Deputy director of Shanghai's Centre for Disease Control Wu Huanyu told reporters on Wednesday restrictions will continue with the same intensity during what is the city's "most difficult and critical moment".
"Should we relax our vigilance, the epidemic may rebound, so it is necessary to persistently implement the prevention and control work without relaxing," he said.
China censors WHO's remarks questioning Covid strategy
A growing number of Western experts have branded China's approach, particularly in the face of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, as untenable, however Mr Tedros' call for a nation to reevaluate its approach is rare.
His remarks were not broadcast or published in China's state-run media, with the Chinese Communist Party's message to its people unwavering, stifling criticism and any suggestion their approach is not the right one in the process.
"The overwhelming majority of the Chinese population in most of the country can enjoy normal life and production. The Covid-19 infection rate and mortality rate in China remain the lowest in the world," Mr Zhao boasted.
Professor Catherine Bennett, Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University, told Yahoo News Australia last year China was unwilling to open up like other countries over fears its weaker vaccines would not prevent widespread illness and death.
Researchers from the US and China this week said if China abandoned its strategy, it could result in 1.5 million deaths.
"The Chinese government has formulated and implemented the dynamic zero-COVID policy based on China’s national realities and has been adjusting prevention and control protocols based on the changing conditions," Mr Zhao said.
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