Shanghai has reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control, a day after the head of the World Health Organisation said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies.
While China's largest city has seen progress in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak, any relaxation in prevention and control measures could allow it to rebound, deputy director of Shanghai's 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 on Wednesday.
"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.
Wu gave no indication he was aware of the comments by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he had been holding discussions with Chinese experts on the need to transition to a new approach in light of new knowledge about the virus.
"When we talk about the 'zero-COVID,' we don't think that it's sustainable, considering the behaviour of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future," Tedros said at a news briefing Tuesday.
"And especially when we have now a good knowledge, understanding of the virus and when we have good tools to use, transitioning to another strategy will be very important," he said.
Tedros was joined by Mike Ryan, the WHO's emergencies chief, who said all pandemic control actions should "show due respect to individual and human rights."
Countries need to "balance the control measures, the impact on society, the impact on the economy. That is not always an easy calibration to make," Ryan said.
China's ruling Communist Party has strictly controlled all discussion about its controversial approach, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks, and said it would tolerate no criticism.
The entirely state-controlled media did not report on the comments by Tedros and Ryan and references to them on the Chinese internet appeared to have been removed by censors.
The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-COVID has stirred considerable resentment in Shanghai, where some residents have been under lockdown for more than a month.
As of Wednesday, more than two million people in the city remained confined to their residential compounds, while restrictions had been slightly relaxed for most of the other 23 million.
However, the easing appears to now be on hold, even as the number of new cases falls in the city that is home to China's busiest port, main stock market and thousands of Chinese and foreign firms.
Along with the human cost, the adherence to "zero-COVID" as many other countries loosen restrictions and try to live with the virus is exacting a growing economic toll.
However, the party under leader Xi Jinping shows no sign of backing off amid efforts to ensure stability and shore up its authority ahead of a major party congress this autumn.
While China says more than 88 per cent of its population is fully vaccinated, the rate is considerably lower among the vulnerable elderly. Questions have also been raised about the efficacy of Chinese-produced vaccines 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 that in Shanghai.
The city, which reported 37 new cases on Wednesday, has locked down individual buildings and residential compounds, shut about 60 subway stations and banned dining at restaurants, allowing only takeaway and delivery.