China on Wednesday scampered to censor WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' sharp criticism of its much-touted dynamic zero COVID policy as unsustainable, while the foreign ministry curtly told him to refrain from making ''irresponsible remarks''.
''We hope the relevant individual will take an objective and reasonable view 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 media briefing here answering a spate of questions on the criticism by the Director-General of the World Health Organisation.
Zhao said no matter how hard it is, the Chinese people and the government have every confidence to bring the virus under control.
''We have the foundation and capability to successfully carry out the zero COVID policy which is a protocol that suits China's national conditions,'' he said.
Earlier, Chinese sensors scampered to scrub the Chinese social media, especially Weibo, which is akin to Twitter, to remove Tedros comments sharply critical of Zero COVID policy of putting a number of cities on either lockdowns or semi-lockdowns to deal with the spread of the Omicron variant.
Tedros, once the toast of the Chinese government for praising President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus when it emerged first in Wuhan in December 2019 before it spiralled into a pandemic, said on Tuesday that the zero COVID policy which drew criticism from the Chinese public is unsustainable.
Tedros who faced global criticism for praising Xi and China as the virus turned into a pandemic affecting millions of people all over the world later faced criticism for calling a detailed probe into the allegation of the coronavirus leaked from a lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
''As we all know the virus is evolving, changing its behaviour and becoming more transmissible. With that changing behaviour, changing your measures will be very important,” Tedros told a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
''When we talk about zero COVID strategy, we don't think it is sustainable considering the behaviour of the virus now what we anticipate in the future, especially when we have now the good knowledge and understanding of the virus,” he told a media briefing in Geneva.
With the availability of good tools, transiting into another strategy will be very important, Tedros said in the recording of his press conference circulated by the WHO to the media.
''We have discussed about this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable, considering the behaviour of the virus I think a shift will be very important,'' he said in strong comments critical of China's zero COVID policy pursued vigorously by Beijing under the directives of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
On Wednesday, China's National Health Commission reported 1,847 cases, mostly from Shanghai, the country's business hub with over 25 million population, which remained under lockdown for over a month.
Also, the capital Beijing, which is under semi-lockdown, conducted the ninth nucleic acid test on Wednesday for its over 21 million people. The 10th test will be conducted on Thursday.
As China continues to wage a grim battle to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, President Xi has been prodding officials to strictly adhere to the much-criticised dynamic zero-COVID policy, saying the epidemic prevention has reached a crucial stage.
In his much-publicised comments at the ruling Communist Party's high power political bureau meeting in Beijing to review the COVID-19 situation on May 4, Xi stressed that epidemic prevention and control is at a critical stage and called for efforts to adhere to the dynamic zero-COVID policy.
Last week, China cancelled the 2022 Asian Games scheduled to be held in Hangzhou in September and the World University Games due to start in Chengdu in late June as Beijing reportedly cleared the way for key ruling Chinese Communist Party of China (CPC) Congress later this year, which was widely expected to confirm a rare 3rd term for Xi.
As part of those preparations for the Congress, authorities have been ordered to remove any potential social and political risks, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported last week.
Under the zero COVID policy, China has also cancelled flights with several countries, including India, for over two years.
Besides criticism from WHO, more than 20 university professors across China have called for Shanghai city to stop ''excessive pandemic prevention'', arguing that some policies implemented during the city’s over month long lockdown contradicted the rule of law.
The academics, led by Tong Zhiwei, a professor of constitutional studies at Shanghai’s East China University of Political Science and Law, made the call in a letter published online on Sunday.
The letter circulated on social media for a number of hours before it was censored. Tong’s Weibo account, which had more than 400,000 followers, was also suspended.
In the letter, Tong, who is a Communist Party member, wrote that the consequences of the pandemic restrictions were serious and could lead to “some kind of legal disaster”, the Post reported on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a study published by the media here in defence of the zero COVID policy said 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 model by Chinese and US researchers suggested that, given China’s vaccine efficacy and coverage, an unchecked outbreak that began with 20 cases of Omicron in March could “generate a tsunami of Covid-19 cases” between May and July.
Such an outbreak is projected to cause 112 million symptomatic cases, or 80 cases per 1,000 people, with 2.7 million of them requiring treatment in intensive care, the study published by the Post said.
They estimated that unvaccinated people aged over 60 would account for three quarters (74.7 per cent) of the deaths, considering 52 million people in this age group were not fully vaccinated as of mid-March.
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