China health chief warns against 'skin-to-skin contact with foreigners' amid first case of monkeypox

A senior Chinese health official recently warned people on social media not to touch foreigners as the country reported its first case of monkeypox.

In a Weibo post on Saturday, Wu Zunyou, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s chief epidemiologist, announced that China now has one case of monkeypox that “slipped through the net” despite tight COVID-19 restrictions.

"It is necessary and important to strengthen the monitoring and prevention of monkeypox," Wu wrote.

He also listed five recommendations in the post, with the first one causing controversy online.

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“To prevent possible monkeypox infection and as part of our healthy lifestyle, it is recommended that 1) you do not have direct skin-to-skin contact with foreigners,” he wrote.

Chinese health authorities reportedly detected monkeypox, an infection that causes flu-like symptoms, severe rashes and other symptoms, from an “international arrival” under COVID-19 quarantine in Chongqing, a municipality in southwest China.

Many Weibo users reportedly shared Wu’s post, with some supporting his advice and expressing relief for not knowing many non-Chinese nationals. However, some users criticized Wu’s message and even compared it to what Asians experienced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This is a bit like when the pandemic began, when some people overseas avoided any Chinese people they saw out of fear," one user commented. “I don't believe these two things have any scientific basis, they are too broad and will exacerbate public panic."

"When the pandemic first began, some of our foreign friends stood up and used our own platforms to tell everybody, 'Chinese people are not the virus,'" another user wrote. Afterward, when the domestic outbreak was brought under control and our foreign friends began to face discrimination, many Chinese people with their own platforms were completely silent."

Other Weibo users questioned Wu’s post, asking why long-time foreigners in China are supposedly more dangerous than locals.

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On Sunday, the comments section of Wu’s post, which circulated widely on Weibo over the weekend, was disabled.

The senior health official clarified his post on Monday following the backlash, advising people to avoid “intimate direct skin-to-skin contact” with foreigners or people who have traveled from areas with confirmed cases of monkeypox.

Some Chinese experts believe that unlike COVID-19, which triggered sudden lockdowns across the country – including the months-long lockdown in Shanghai that started in late March – monkeypox will not lead to nationwide lockdowns.

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Speaking to the Global Times, Lu Hongzhou, head of the Third People's Hospital of Shenzhen, said the disease “poses little threat to Chinese communities.” However, Lu also mentioned strict customs quarantine inspection to avoid imported cases in China.

As of Sept. 19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has logged 23,893 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States, with California having the highest recorded number at 4,656 infections, followed by New York at 3,755 infections.

Featured Image via Peking University