'UNSUSTAINABLE': China's Covid strategy suffers major blow

·3-min read

China's relentless Covid-zero strategy suffered a major blow on Tuesday when the World Health Organisation (WHO) branded it "unsustainable".

All eyes have been on Shanghai in recent weeks with the city's population of 26 million locked down at a time large parts of the world have transitioned to living with the virus.

The draconian measures used to suppress the spread of the virus have resulted in the emergence of troubling video on social media, including incidences where residents are locked inside apartment blocks and pet dogs have been killed over transmission fears.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21 2022: Patients rest in a temporary hospital for Covid-positive people in Shanghai, China Thursday, Apr. 21, 2022. (Photo credit should read RAY YOUNG/ Feature China/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Covid positive patients and close contacts are moved into hospitals and vast isolation centres (pictured). Source: Getty

The stringent restrictions have seen increased resistance from fatigued residents – a level of disobedience rarely seen in China. President Xi Jinping insists residents must stay the course, previously stressing "persistence is victory".

However top Chinese scientist Zeng Guang said in February China's tactics cannot "remain unchanged forever" and Beijing's long-term goal was to eventually "co-exist" with the virus.

WHO chief does not support China's strategy

Facing the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference on Tuesday such an approach could not survive.

"When we talk about the zero-Covid strategy, we don't think that it's sustainable, considering the behaviour of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future," he said.

"We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable. Transiting into another strategy will be very important."

A view of the wire fence installed to keep Shanghai residents inside a condo building as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Shanghai.
A cage set up at the front of a building to stop Shanghai residents leaving. Source: Getty

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said they were now trying to work out a detailed "exit strategy" with China, balancing suppression of the virus with societal and economical impacts.

It's a bold move from the WHO to openly dismiss China's strategy which it has vehemently followed since Covid-19 first emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan.

Shanghai authorities succeed in bringing cases down

Shanghai authorities have managed to bring daily cases down to below 3,000 from the peak of more than 25,000 reported cases, allowing for restrictions in some areas of the city to ease.

Dr Ryan sympathised with China's position, noting a nation with so few deaths from the virus would want to protect such a position.

The WHO was accused by several Western nations of a soft approach with Beijing at the beginning of the pandemic, believing key information from the epicentre was withheld and shrouded in secrecy.

Former US president Donald Trump called the UN's health body "a puppet of China", before cancelling its funding from the US.

Mr Tedros had called for the virus not to be politicised, however he angered China when he called for further investigation into the virus's origins after claiming the mission strictly monitored by Beijing wasn't "extensive enough".

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