Shanghai on Wednesday clung to China’s “zero COVID” policy strategy, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said it is not sustainable and urged China to change its system.
Although China’s largest city is containing its COVID-19 outbreak, any lifting of control measures could allow a rebound, Wu Huanyu, deputy director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control, told reporters.
“If we relax our vigilance, the epidemic may rebound, so it is necessary to persistently apply control and prevention work without relaxing,” he said.
Wu made no mention of comments by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he had held talks with Chinese experts about the need to switch to a new strategy now that more is known about the virus.
“When we talk about ‘zero COVID,’ I don’t think that’s sustainable, given the behavior of the virus now and what we expect in the future,” Tedros said Tuesday at a news conference.
Tedros offered his conference with Mike Ryan, head of emergencies at the WHO, who said that all pandemic control measures must “show due respect for human and individual rights.”
Countries, Ryan said, must “balance the control measures, the impact on society, the impact on the economy. It is not always an easy calculation to do.”
China’s ruling Communist Party has firmly controlled all talk of its controversial strategy, which aims to completely eradicate the outbreaks, and said it would not tolerate criticism. The entirely state-controlled media did not report Tedros and Ryan’s comments and references to their statements on the Chinese internet appeared to have been removed by censors.
The merciless and often chaotic enforcement of zero-COVID policies has caused considerable resentment in Shanghai, where some residents have been confined for more than a month. As of Wednesday, more than two million people in the city were still confined to their residential compounds, while most of the other 23 million people have seen restrictions slightly relaxed.
However, the reopening seemed to have stalled even as the number of new cases continued to drop in the city that is home to the country’s busiest port, the main stock exchange and thousands of Chinese and foreign firms.
In addition to the human cost, maintaining the COVID zero line while other countries loosen restrictions and try to live with the virus is taking an economic toll.
But Xi Jinping’s party shows no intention of recalculating as it seeks to ensure stability and secure its authority ahead of a major party congress this fall.