Pandemic. China’s zero Covid policy ‘unsustainable’ says WHO

The zero Covid policy, advocated at the highest level of power in China in an attempt to combat the pandemic, “is not sustainable”, WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday. He urges the Chinese authorities to “switch to a different strategy”.

At the end of last week, China had once again declared that it would continue its zero Covid strategy, a “major asset” against the coronavirus. According to the Chinese authorities – including President Xi Jinping who has put all his weight in the balance for the pursuit of this strategy – the zero Covid policy has allowed the Chinese to live almost normally since 2020 and to limit the number of deaths to less than 5,000 according to the official report.

But the Omicron variant changed that. Largely spared for two years, the Asian giant is facing its worst epidemic outbreak since the spring of 2020 and continues to apply the same policy even as the virus has mutated and has become much more contagious than the original strain detected in China at the end of 2019.

Actions that must be taken “with respect for human rights”

Faced with the rise in the number of deaths since February-March, it is logical that the Chinese government reacts, noted on Tuesday Dr. Michael Ryan, the director of emergency situations at the WHO. “But all these actions, as we have reiterated from the start, must be taken with respect for individuals and human rights,” he added. In Shanghai, confined residents are now protesting by banging their pans on the windows.

Dr Ryan called for “dynamic, adaptable and flexible policies”, because the lack of adaptability has shown during this pandemic that it can cause “a lot of damage”. Maria Van Kerkhove, in charge of supervising the fight against Covid within the WHO, insisted on the fact that it was today impossible to stop all transmission of the virus.

“Our global goal is not to identify all cases and stop all transmission. It’s really not possible at the moment,” she acknowledged, and insisted: “But what we have to do is reduce the rate of transmission because the virus is circulating at such a high high level of intensity”.