After criticizing the country’s zero-Covid policy, the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) is being censored on China’s internet.
The restriction of China’s two most popular social media platforms, Weibo and WeChat, targets WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ statements, which revealed unusual dissent with Beijing’s policies.
“When we talk about the zero-Covid strategy, we don’t think that it is sustainable, considering the behavior of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future. […] We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable…I think a shift will be very important” Tedros stated during a press conference on Tuesday that Omicron’s transmissibility had grown.
Tedros’ condemnation came only days after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to “resolutely battle” against any detractors of the program.
Tedro’s comments were uploaded early Wednesday morning by the United Nations’ official press account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, prompting a barrage of snarky responses from Chinese users.
“Defend our country’s epidemic prevention and control measures vehemently against any words or actions that distort, question, or deny them! The World Health Organization must go! “a top response stated. “Should the UN’s verified account be blocked this time?” another said. The message was no longer available on Weibo by mid-morning, “due to the author’s private setting.” The circumstances under which the setting was altered are unknown.
Tedros’ name has also been censored on Weibo, with photographs of his face being removed from the platform but messages including his name being viewable.
As of Wednesday morning, an item from the United Nations’ official account on WeChat that featured Tedros’ statements had been “blocked from sharing owing to a breach of applicable rules and regulations.” The platform has also been cleared of video excerpts of Tedros’ remarks.
Over the past two years, China’s zero-tolerance strategy of snap lockdowns, mass testing, and quarantining has shielded the majority of its people from Covid, but it has sparked growing opposition as the lockdowns have gotten more strict and frequent in the face of Omicron’s rapid expansion.
Shanghai, China’s most populated and cosmopolitan city, is in the midst of a six-week lockdown that has prompted public outrage, while Beijing, the country’s capital, has closed schools, and restaurants, and implemented periodic mass testing to combat the epidemic. More municipal governments are enacting emergency lockdowns in reaction to a small number of occurrences elsewhere. Due to the country’s vast number of old people and scarce medical resources, the Chinese government has insisted on the rigorous rules, claiming that relaxing them would “inevitably lead to large-scale infections, a big number of serious illnesses, and fatalities.”
If China’s zero-Covid policies are withdrawn without greater vaccination coverage or availability of antiviral medicines, new modeling by researchers largely from Shanghai’s Fudan University predicts over 1.5 million Omicron fatalities.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Nature Medicine on Tuesday, revealed that an unchecked Omicron wave would overwhelm critical care capacity, resulting in 112.2 million symptomatic patients.
According to the study, in the case of an unchecked Omicron epidemic, China’s national healthcare system would be severely overwhelmed, with demand for the country’s 64,000 ICU beds exceeding supply by 15.6 times for at least 44 days.
However, if the Chinese government concentrates on boosting access to vaccinations and antiviral medicines, that scenario may be averted, according to the modeling. Moreover, 88 percent of Chinese citizens are completely vaccinated, while vaccination rates among the elderly are substantially lower. Only half of those over the age of 80 in China had been properly vaccinated as of March 17, and fewer than 20% of that susceptible age group had had a booster. Unlike most nations, China’s immunization efforts did not initially emphasize the elderly.
Chinese officials have promised to accelerate immunization among the elderly since the current outbreak. In locked-down communities, however, getting vaccinated is nearly difficult since inhabitants are confined to their houses and only permitted to out for Covid testing.