China Won’t Stick to Covid-Zero Forever, Top Health Adviser Says
(Bloomberg) -- China should move away from its Covid-Zero approach when elimination no longer works to the country’s advantage, according to a senior health adviser to the government.
“When the dividend on Covid-Zero no longer exists, we won’t do that,” Zeng Guang, the former chief scientist of epidemiology at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with ifeng.com, the news portal of Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, published Thursday.
“China should look at other countries, for example the U.K., and see what lessons can be learned and what pitfalls to avoid in opening up borders,” Zeng said.
As much of the world learns to live with the virus, China is still adhering to a policy of elimination, including a closed border, targeted lockdowns and mass testing. But outbreaks fueled by the more-infectious delta variant are showing the limitations of the approach, as countries such as Singapore and the U.K. lift restrictions to help repair shattered economies.
The remarks from a senior Covid adviser to China’s government offer a rare glimpse into the deliberations of potential changes to containment strategies in the world’s second-largest economy and show how difficult it is to try to eradicate the virus.
Other countries that have followed a Covid-Zero approach are also grappling with fresh outbreaks, such as Australia, where more than half the population is back in lockdown.
Still, China may find it difficult to wean itself off the approach, which enjoys widespread support. A change could even be seen as an ideological betrayal of the success of China’s containment regime, with authorities trumpeting their success in managing the virus as a moral victory over the U.S. and other nations now treating Covid-19 as endemic.
But Zeng’s comments may hint at potential flexibility in Beijing’s tactics. Though having retired from his role at the China CDC, his remarks carry weight because he was part of the group who confirmed human-to-human transmission when the virus first emerged in Wuhan in early 2020. He also commended the efforts of whistle-blowing doctors who sounded the earliest alarms on Covid, and featured at press conferences to explain the response and update the progress on vaccines.
“The world around us isn’t in a stable condition, our vaccination is still inadequate and the Covid vaccines are yet to be updated -- that’s why we are still doing Covid-Zero,” Zeng said in the interview. “But as the international situation changes, China will definitely change.”
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