The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned China cannot maintain its zero-Covid strategy despite forecasts that without the strict measures, more than 1.5 million lives will be at risk.
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WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva yesterday he believes Beijing’s plan to fight infections is “unsustainable given the behavior of the virus”. He had “discussed this issue with Chinese experts,” Tedros said, stressing that a “change” in Beijing’s approach is “very important.”
The intervention came in as a newly published study Nature on modeling by scientists in China and the US concluded that lifting the zero-Covid policy without safety precautions risks “causing approximately 1.55 million deaths”.
Very good isolation
The new study found that while scrapping the policy would be devastating for public health, the danger could be mitigated by other government interventions such as increasing Covid-19 vaccination rates.
Experts from Fudan University in China and the US National Institutes of Health predict that demand for intensive care units would be more than 15 times capacity if the measures were dropped without the introduction of other measures, leading to hundreds of thousands of people would result in deaths.
However, they said the death toll could be greatly reduced if there was a focus on vaccination and the provision of antivirals while maintaining some restrictions. Only about 50 percent of those over 80 in China are vaccinated, the newspaper said.
Many countries tried to enforce zero Covid measures while the world grappled with the best way to control the spread of Covid-19. However, many abandoned this approach as vaccinations made the strategy less necessary.
Currently, only mainland China and North Korea are still pursuing an approach that relies on maximum suppression of infections. But data from countries that abandoned the zero-Covid strategy earlier in the pandemic will give them cause for concern.
New Zealand, which abandoned the plan after the Delta variant arrived in late 2021, has now recorded one million infections. And worryingly, “it took just three months” for the number of cases to rise from 200,000 to the “grim milestone”. The New Zealand Herald called.
Experts have said the rapid rise in cases “reflects the enormous scale of the problems” the country is facing after trying to quell the virus for so long, the newspaper added. A “second wave” could hit the country “as early as late winter or early spring,” leaving questions about the degree of “natural immunity” enjoyed by New Zealanders.
closer to home
China doesn’t have to look as far as New Zealand for a warning of its predicament. As Hong Kong began dropping its zero-Covid approach in March, it went from having one of the lowest infection rates to “the highest death rate in the world”. NBC News reported.
An approach of “mass testing, contact tracing, border closures and strict quarantine requirements kept cases and deaths to a minimum for nearly two years.” But experts have since warned that “it also prompted complacency” about an “inevitable” outbreak.
Zero-Covid measures have been successful in most instances when governments have tried to “prevent the virus from entering,” Ben Cowling, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, told the broadcaster.
But the restrictions are “delaying” the spread of Covid, he added, warning that the approach means Hong Kong “can’t stop an outbreak at all, once it’s established”.
A similar spike in infections was seen in Vietnam as it dropped its zero-Covid strategy after a “strong warning from the economy and a record quarterly decline in gross domestic product”. financial times called. And Taiwan, “once a zero-Covid poster child,” is also learning to “live with the virus.” The guard added, increasing tensions with Beijing.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ criticism of China’s commitment to a zero-Covid approach is a “rare” example of the UN agency commenting directly on “a government’s handling of the pandemic.” The times reported.
His concern was also shared by Mike Ryan, WHO’s director of emergencies, who described how “in addition to the impact on a country’s economy, the human rights impact of China’s tough Covid policies must also be considered,” the paper added added.
It was “understandable” that China would try to protect its low death toll by taking “tough measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus”. The guard called. But outbreaks of the Omicron variant have “underscored the difficulty of fully containing Covid.”
As the rest of the world begins to reopen after two years of lockdown, “numerous Chinese cities — from financial hub Shanghai to capital Beijing — have been under some form of lockdown since the beginning of this year.”
The situation has been exacerbated by the authorities’ “stubborn enforcement of the policy,” the paper added, prompting “fear and anger.”
Despite public criticism, Xi Jinping last week urged Chinese officials to “firmly adhere to the overall policy of dynamic zero Covid,” claiming, “We won the battle to defend Wuhan, and we will certainly win the battle.” can defend Shanghai”.
But with China now the only major economy in the world to pursue the plan, its commitment to the policy may be driven more by worrying modeling of what happens if it changes course than a desire to remain on lockdown .
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/world-news/china/956703/can-china-safely-escape-zero-covid-strategy The prospects for China’s zero-Covid strategy