The head of the World Health Organization said May 10 that the Chinese regime’s zero-COVID policy is “unsustainable,” a rare criticism that has been quickly censored on China’s Internet.
“When we talk about the zero-Covid strategy, we don’t think that it’s sustainable, considering the behavior of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on Tuesday.
“We have discussed about this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable … I think a shift would be very important,” he said.
The rare rebuke from the director-general, who had repeatedly praised the Chinese regime’s response earlier in the pandemic, was posted in Chinese by the United Nations on its social media accounts on Wednesday morning.
Shortly after, the article on Twitter-like Weibo was not visible. The item on WeChat, another China social media platform, carried the explanation: “This article has been prohibited from sharing because it has violated relevant laws and regulations.” China’s state-backed media didn’t report Tedro’s comments.
The incident came after the Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping issued warnings against anyone who criticized, questioned, or distorted the regime’s zero-COVID policy. “We have won the battle to defend Wuhan, and can certainly win the battle to defend Shanghai,” Xi told top Party leaders during a May 5 meeting.
His remarks came as the financial hub of Shanghai was in its seventh week of lockdown. The protracted restrictions forced upon the city’s 26 million residents has resulted in mounting discontent as locals complain of the difficulties in sourcing food, cramped and unhygienic conditions in mass quarantine facilities, the psychological toll of being sealed insider their homes, and being denied access to medical care for non-COVID health issues.
In January 2020, Xi launched the zero-COVID playbook by imposing draconian lockdown and mandatory quarantine on millions in Wuhan, a central Chinese city where the first infections were reported. At that time, the WHO chief applauded the regime for “setting a new standard for outbreak response.”
By early April 2020, lockdown measures were in place in more than 90 countries, affecting more than 3.9 billion people, with Italy being the first country outside of China to impose a nationwide lockdown.
But now, two years later, the regime’s zero-COVID policy has drawn broad based criticism from scientists to its own citizens. A series of lockdowns implemented across various cities in the past few months has affected hundreds of millions of Chinese, generating rising anger and stories of suffering.
While the regime claimed the curbs were enacted to save lives, reports have emerged that non-COVID patients have died as a result of the strict containment measures. For instance, a prominent Chinese economist Larry Hsien Ping Lang said on April 11 that he lost his mother because the hospital demanded his 98-year-old mother, who was suffering from kidney failure, get a negative test result before being sent to the emergency room. His mother ended up dying during the wait for the test results.
WHO Emergencies Director Michael Ryan said at Tuesday’s press conference that the zero-COVID policy should show “due respect to individual and human rights.”
White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci recently described the massive lockdown, like the one in Shanghai, as a “disaster.” In a May 2 interview with Foreign Policy, Fauci said the lockdown was to prepare the population to get the vaccination, and that was unlikely to kill the virus.
“If you just lock down and wait for the virus to disappear, it’s not going to happen,” Fauci said.
Reuters and Frank Fang contributed to the report.