WHO boss’s comment on China’s zero-covid policy censored

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The World Health Organisation Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s comment that questioned the sustainability of China’s zero-covid policy is being censored on the country’s internet.

The DG’s comments that expressed disagreement with Beijing’s policies were target on Weibo and WeChat, China’s two largest social media platforms.

“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,” Tedros told a media briefing Tuesday, citing the increased transmissibility of Omicron.

“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,” he said.

The criticism from Tedros, who was accused of being too close to China earlier in the pandemic, came just days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping vowed to double down on the policy and “resolutely struggle” against all critics.

The United Nation’s official press account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo posted Tedro’s comments early on Wednesday morning, drawing a wave of sarcastic comments from Chinese users.

“Resolutely fight against any words and acts that distort, doubt or deny our country’s epidemic prevention and control policies! Down with the World Health Organization!” a top reply said.

“Should the UN’s verified account be blocked this time?” another said.

By mid-morning, the post was no longer viewable on Weibo “due to the author’s privacy setting.” It is unclear under what circumstances the setting was changed.

A Weibo hashtag of Tedros’ name has also been censored, with images featuring his face being scrubbed from the platform, though posts containing his name are still visible.

On WeChat, an article from the UN’s official account that included Tedros’ comments has been “banned from sharing due to a violation of relevant laws and regulations” as of Wednesday morning. Video clips of Tedros’ speech have also been removed from the platform.

Tedros’ comments, though in line with the assessment of most scientists, have also drawn the ire of Beijing, which called them “irresponsible.”

“We hope relevant people can view China’s epidemic prevention and control policy in an objective and rational way, learn more about the facts and refrain from making irresponsible remarks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a news briefing Wednesday.

China’s zero-tolerance approach of snap lockdowns, mass testing and quarantining has protected the majority of its population from Covid over the past two years, but it has drawn rising dissent as the lockdowns become more stringent and frequent amid the fast spread of Omicron.

Shanghai, the country’s most populous and cosmopolitan city, is reeling from a six-week lockdown that has sparked public outcry, while the capital Beijing has shut schools, restaurants and rolled out frequent mass testing to curb its outbreak. Elsewhere, more local governments are imposing swift lockdowns in response to just a handful of cases.

But the Chinese leadership has insisted on the strict measures, saying a relaxation will “inevitably lead to large scale infections, a large number of serious illness and deaths” due to the country’s large number of elderly people and insufficient medical resources.

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