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The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) is being censored on China’s internet after questioning the sustainability of the country’s zero-covid policy.
The censorship on Weibo and WeChat, China’s two largest social media platforms, focuses on the comments of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, which expressed rare disagreement with Beijing’s policies.
“When we talk about the zero-Covid strategy, we don’t think it’s sustainable, given the behavior of the virus now and what we expect in the future,” Tedros told a media briefing on Tuesday, citing increased transmissibility. from Omicron.
“We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts and we have indicated that the approach will not be sustainable… I think a shift will be very important,” he said.
The criticism of Tedros, who was accused of being too close to China earlier in the pandemic, came just days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping sworn to double about the policy and “fighting resolutely” against all critics.
The official United Nations press account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo posted Tedro’s comments early Wednesday morning, sparking a spate of sarcastic comments from Chinese users.
“Fight resolutely against all words and deeds that distort, question or deny our country’s epidemic prevention and control policies! Down with the World Health Organization!” a great answer said.
“Should the UN verified account be blocked this time?” said another.
By mid-morning, the post was no longer visible on Weibo “due to the author’s privacy setting.” It is not clear under what circumstances the setting was changed.
A Weibo hashtag of Tedros’ name has also been censored, with images of his face being scrubbed off the platform, though posts bearing his name are still visible.
On WeChat, an article from the official UN account that contained Tedros’ comments was “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.
Tedros’ comments, while consistent with most scientists’ assessment, also angered Beijing, who called them “irresponsible.”
“We hope that relevant people can view China’s epidemic prevention and control policy in an objective and rational way, learn more about the facts and refrain from making irresponsible comments,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao. Lijian, during a press conference on Wednesday.
China’s zero-tolerance approach to rapid lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine has protected the majority of the population from Covid for the past two years, but it has become increasingly controversial as lockdowns become stricter and more frequent amid the rapid spread of Omicron .
Shanghai, the most populous and cosmopolitan city in the country, is recovering from a six-week lockdown That has sparked public outcrywhile the capital Beijing has closed schools, restaurants and rolled out frequent mass testing to curb its outbreak. Elsewhere, more local governments are imposing rapid lockdowns in response to just a handful of cases.
But China’s leadership has pushed for the strict measures, saying any easing will “inevitably lead to large-scale infections, a large number of serious illnesses and deaths” due to the large number of elderly people in the country and insufficient medical resources.
New models by researchers, mainly from Fudan University in Shanghai, predicted that China could face more than 1.5 million Omicron deaths if null Covid measures are lifted without increased vaccine coverage or access to antiviral therapies.
Published Tuesday by the journal Nature MedicineThe peer-reviewed study found that based on immunity levels from March, an uncontrolled Omicron wave would exceed critical care capacity across the country, causing 112.2 million symptomatic cases.
The research estimates that in the event of an uncontrolled Omicron outbreak, China’s national health care system would be completely overwhelmed, with demand for the country’s 64,000 ICU beds surpassing supply by 15.6 times, over a period of at least least 44 days.
But that scenario could be avoided, according to the modeling, if the Chinese government focuses on increasing “accessibility to vaccines and antiviral therapies.”
More than 88% of the Chinese are fully vaccinated, but the vaccination rate is much lower in the elderly. As of March 17, only half of the over-80s in China have been fully vaccinated and less than 20% of that vulnerable age group have been boosted. Unlike most countries, the elderly were not originally given priority in China’s vaccination campaigns.
Since the latest outbreak, Chinese officials have vowed to speed up vaccination among the elderly. But in closed-off areas, it’s virtually impossible to get vaccinated, as residents are confined to their homes and allowed outside only for Covid testing.