China’s Censors Target WHO Chief After Comments Criticizing Flagship Zero-Covid Policy


China’s internet censors have targeted the head of the World Health Organization after he questioned the viability of the country’s zero-Covid policy on Tuesday, removing social media posts referencing the comments as Beijing doubles down on the controversial approach despite mounting public frustration and economic damage.

Key Facts

Posts featuring WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus have been censored on Weibo and WeChat, two of China’s biggest social media platforms, after he said China’s flagship zero-Covid policy—which aims to eliminate all infections through strict lockdowns and mass testing—was unsustainable.

A post featuring Tedros’ remarks from an official United Nations account on Weibo was removed shortly after publication and hashtags of his name and the WHO have been removed.

Video clips of Tedros’ comments have also been removed from WeChat and the platform has disabled sharing of an article posted by the official UN account, which WeChat said was due to a “violation of relevant laws and regulations.”

The WHO did not immediately respond to Forbes’ request for comment.

Key Background

China is one of the few places in the world still adhering to a “zero-Covid” strategy to manage Covid-19. It is the cornerstone of China’s pandemic policy and the country has resorted to drastic measures in its attempt to eliminate all cases of the virus, placing entire cities—including Shanghai—under strict lockdown for weeks at a time. The policy has stoked discontent and unrest among members of the public, accusations of inhumane treatment amid food shortages and prolonged confinement and concerns of severe economic damage after weeks or months of heavy restrictions. Tedros’ comments mark a rare WHO rebuke of Chinese policy during the pandemic after the organization was criticized for taking an apparently soft stance earlier in the pandemic. It places the WHO in direct conflict with President Xi Jinping, who has stated that officials will “unswervingly adhere” to the policy and staked his political reputation on its success.

Big Number

1.55 million. That’s how many people could die from Covid-19 in a six-month period if China abandons its zero-Covid policy, researchers have warned. Absent any other steps to contain the disease—such as antiviral drugs, mass testing and increasing vaccine uptake—an omicron wave would rapidly overwhelm China’s hospital system, modeling suggests. Boosting vaccine uptake among the elderly and increasing access to antiviral drugs are the most important policies for China to consider to bring down deaths and hospitalizations when transitioning away from zero-Covid, the researchers said. Improving ventilation and strengthening critical care capacity are important long-term goals, they added.

Further Reading

China Faces Omicron ‘Tsunami’ If It Abandons Controversial Zero-Covid Policy, Researchers Warn (Forbes)

Xi Jinping attacks ‘doubters’ as he doubles down on China’s zero-Covid policy (Guardian)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

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