The head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that China’s zero-tolerance policy against COVID-19 was not sustainable given what is known about the disease, in rare public comments from the United Nations agency on a government’s handling of the virus.
“We don’t think it’s sustainable given the behavior of the virus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.
Speaking after Tedros, WHO emergency director Mike Ryan said the impact of a “zero-COVID” policy on human rights must also be considered alongside the effect on a country’s economy.
He also noted that China had recorded 15,000 deaths since the virus 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’s understandable that one of the most populous countries in the world would want to take stringent measures to curb coronavirus contagion, Ryan said.
WHO guidelines have never recommended mass screening of asymptomatic people – as is currently the case in China – due to the costs involved and lack of data on its effectiveness.
Still a “critical period” according to the Chinese authorities
China’s zero COVID-19 policy has drawn criticism from scientists to its own citizens, leading to a cycle of multi-million lockdowns. Under this policy, authorities lock down large areas of population to stamp out viral spread in response to any coronavirus outbreak, even if only a small number of people test positive.
Shanghai, with a population of 25 million, was going through its sixth week of citywide lockdown.
Shanghai’s measures have been particularly strict, with residents only allowed out of the compounds for exceptional reasons, such as a medical emergency. Many are not even allowed to leave their homes to mingle with neighbors.
Its quarantine policy has also been criticized for separating children from parents and placing asymptomatic cases among those with symptoms.
Beijing reported 59 new local cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, a disease control official said Tuesday.
The city had reported a total of 836 local cases of COVID-19 as of 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday since April 22, Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said at a press briefing. .
The capital has not seen its number of daily cases exceed several dozen since its latest outbreak began on April 22. But she also struggled to bring them down significantly.
WATCH | Latest COVID-19 briefing Tuesday from WHO officials:
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Shanghai has been falling for nearly two weeks, but remains in the thousands and restrictions are tightening.
“We are still in a critical period of epidemic prevention,” said Sun Xiaodong, deputy director of the Municipal Center for Disease Control.
Major economic impact
China has been hampered by the fact that its strict approach throughout the pandemic has left the population with little infection-acquired immunity, with highly transmissible Omicron variants boosting infections. Contrary to what has been observed in most developed countries, the working-age population has higher vaccination rates than the generally more vulnerable older cohorts.
This approach weighs heavily on the world’s second-largest economy, with significant implications for global trade and supply chains.
China’s export growth slowed to its weakest level in nearly two years, data showed Monday. Unemployment was also near two-year highs.
U.S. automaker Tesla has halted most production at its Shanghai plant over issues securing parts, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. Tesla had planned just last week to ramp up production to pre-lockdown levels by next week.
Among Tesla’s suppliers facing difficulties is electrical harness maker Aptiv after infections were discovered among its employees, sources said on Monday.