There was a time in the early days of the pandemic when World Health Organization director Tedros Ghebreyeseus seemed to be China’s best friend and chief defender. And China in turn defended the WHO. Only belatedly did the WHO acknowledge China hadn’t been as forthcoming as they had initially claimed.
But gradually the situation seems to have changed. Last summer Tedros agreed his organization had ruled out the lab leak theory too quickly. “I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” he said as part of an effort to pressure China to provide more information about the origin of the virus.
Today, Tedros took another step which has clearly irritated China by saying that the country’s zero-COVID police was not sustainable. China responded by censoring his comments online.
“When we talk about the zero-Covid strategy, we don’t think that it is sustainable, considering the behavior of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future,” Tedros told a media briefing Tuesday, citing the increased transmissibility of Omicron.
“We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable…I think a shift will be very important,” he said…
The United Nation’s official press account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo posted Tedro’s comments early on Wednesday morning, drawing a wave of sarcastic comments from Chinese users.
“Resolutely fight against any words and acts that distort, doubt or deny our country’s epidemic prevention and control policies! Down with the World Health Organization!” a top reply said.
“Should the UN’s verified account be blocked this time?” another said…
On WeChat, an article from the UN’s official account that included Tedros’ comments has been “banned from sharing due to a violation of relevant laws and regulations” as of Wednesday morning. Video clips of Tedros’ speech have also been removed from the platform.
To be clear, that comment about resolutely fighting any doubts about the country’s commitment to zero-COVID was probably aimed at mocking China not Tedros. The person who posted was pointing out that just a few days ago China’s Politburo rubber-stamped the continuation of the zero-COVID policy and specifically warned about any speech to the contrary:
China will “resolutely adhere to the dynamic zero-Covid strategy and fight against any speech that distorts, questions or rejects” the virus control policies, the body said.
In addition to being censored online, Tedros also got a rebuke from the CCP’s most notorious mouthpiece.
Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing Wednesday, “We hope that relevant people can view China’s policy of epidemic prevention and control objectively and rationally, get more knowledge about the facts and refrain from making irresponsible remarks.”
“The Chinese government’s policy of epidemic prevention and control can stand the test of history, and our prevention and control measures are scientific and effective,” Zhao said. “China is one of the most successful countries in epidemic prevention and control in the world, which is obvious to all of the international community.”
So I guess the WHO/CCP love affair is officially over. Zero-COVID might not be sustainable but researchers at a Shanghai university have modeled the outcome of dropping the effort and they suggest the results would be catastrophic.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, found that the level of immunity induced by China’s March vaccination campaign would be “insufficient” to prevent an omicron wave that would swamp intensive care capacity, given low vaccine rates among the elderly and the virus’s ability to evade immunity from existing shots…
Relinquishing stringent Covid curbs would lead to a surge in critical Covid-19 patients, creating an intensive care demand as much as nearly 16 times of what the country currently can accommodate, according to the computer model the researchers created to simulate an omicron outbreak.
The 1.6 million ensuing deaths would be 50% more than what has been reported in the U.S. throughout the pandemic. Three-quarters would occur among those aged 60 or above who aren’t yet vaccinated, the researchers said.
In Shanghai alone the results predict the death toll would be more than three times the US average. That figure would mark China’s entire COVID response effort as a complete failure and could be destabilizing to Xi Jinping’s rule. So that’s likely why China is unwilling to give up on zero-COVID even if it often seems cruel to the people stuck dealing with draconian lockdown measures. The country can’t admit they have no choice to pursue this approach in part because their own domestic vaccines just aren’t very good.
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