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The Chinese foriegn ministry on Tuesday denounced the head of the World Health Organization for making “irresponsible” remarks after he said the country’s zero-Covid policies were unsustainable.
“We hope the relevant individual will make objective and reasonable views of China’s epidemic protocol and policy and try to get a better understanding of the facts and refrain from making irresponsible remarks,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing in Beijing.
China is facing rising pressure over the prolonged lockdown in Shanghai and the huge social costs of its zero tolerance policy, including residents in the country’s wealthiest city running out of food.
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World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing on Tuesday: “We don’t think that it is sustainable considering the behaviour of the virus and what we now anticipate in the future.
“We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts. And we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable … I think a shift would be very important.”
Censors moved quickly to scrub the comments from the Chinese internet, removing a Weibo post on the United Nations account on Wednesday morning.
After the post on the UN’s Weibo account was censored, internet users searching for the post were given a notification that the content was illegal.
Many Weibo users complained that not only were screen captures of the UN post removed, but even pictures of Tedros became a target of China’s sophisticated social media censorship apparatus.
“Even some of the Ghebreyesus pictures were censored – will this one stay?” said one Weibo user, as he posted a picture of the director general.
Another wrote: “Even the United Nations news centre [account] and Ghebreyesus were censored, it is getting worse”.
Most state media remained quiet about the comments, but Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the party mouthpieces People’s Daily, wrote on his Weibo account that Tedros was jeopardising China’s fight against the virus.
“The WHO should consider what impact it has on China when they comment on China now. They should not jeopardise China’s effort to fight the pandemic from outside.” he wrote.
He also said that the WHO “would not take responsibility” for deaths caused by easing the restrictions.
A study by Fudan University, Indiana University in the United States, and the US medical research agency National Institutes of Health, published a study in Nature Medicine this week which forecast that China could see more than 1.5 million deaths from a wave of Omicron infections without Covid-19 controls and the use of antiviral therapies.
A political commentator who writes for Global Times under the pen name Huoxingfangzhen said on his own social media account that Tedros made the comment at a bad time.
“Compared to criticisms made by Western politicians and media against China’s dynamic zero-Covid policy, the view by WHO general director Tedros Ghebreyesus that the policy was unsustainable was more damaging and it was made at a time when Shanghai was having an uphill task of dynamic zero tolerance,” he posted in his social media account.
New local positive cases in Shanghai dropped to 1,487 on Wednesday and the authorities said infections outside the quarantine areas were mostly under control.
The city said it has managed to clear all local transmissions outside the quarantine facilities in eight of its districts, most recently in Putuo.
The authorities have set up 432 test booths and 12 vehicles in the district as it began to require residents to conduct regular PCR tests which are required to enter workplaces, schools and public venues.
Some of the factories in Putuo have also resumed production, local officials told a press conference on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Beijing reported 56 new positive cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday 3 pm.
China began to impose regular PCR tests in all big cities earlier this month as it tried to identify local transmissions at an early stage and prevent a repeat of the Shanghai lockdown.
Sun Chunlan, the vice premier in charge of the fight against Covid, said earlier this week that the measure was part of an effort to make sure the party congress this autumn would be smooth and safe.
The congress is the most important political event of the year and is expected to see Xi Jinping being given another term in office.
Last week Xi spoke out for the first time on China’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in Shanghai, saying it “will stand the test of time” and pledged to fight any attempt to “distort, question and challenge” the country’s policies.
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