China's controversial 'zero Covid' policy is not sustainable, WHO director general says

WHO chief says China's zero Covid strategy is not sustainable
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said that the issue of China's "zero Covid" policy had been discussed with Chinese experts.Getty Images
  • China's "zero Covid" policy is not sustainable, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

  • Considering "the behavior of the virus," a shift in approach would be "very important," he added.

  • China's approach has been ineffective in stopping the spread of the Omicron variant.

China's controversial "zero Covid" policy is not sustainable, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a rare criticism of a government's handling of the coronavirus.

"We have discussed about this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable. And considering the behavior of the virus, I think a shift would be very important," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing on Tuesday.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO's executive director, added that authorities should constantly adjust their measures in combating Covid but should also always show "due respect to individual and human rights."

"We need to balance the control measures against the impact on society, the impact they have on the economy, and that's not always an easy calibration," he added.

China's "dynamic zero Covid" strategy had largely worked at the start of the pandemic, with citizens enjoying a relatively normal life while the rest of the world struggled to contain Covid outbreaks.

However, recent attempts to stamp out the coronavirus have proven ineffective due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant — and people are losing patience.

The 26 million residents of Shanghai, a major financial hub, have been experiencing various degrees of lockdown since late March — with no end in sight. The city's chaotic handling of its Covid outbreak, which at one point included a harsh policy that separated parents from their Covid-positive children, has led to widespread anger and frustration.

Despite the controversies, Chinese officials have stood by the "zero Covid" strategy. Last Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping confirmed that authorities have no intention of straying from the policy, adding it has been "scientific and effective."

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