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Health experts say the country should look at moving towards ending the zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19. Photo: EPA-EFE

Coronavirus: Chinese health experts call for change in zero-tolerance strategy

  • ‘Serious and systematic discussion’ is needed as other nations start to open up, Peking University academic tells webinar
  • China CDC chief epidemiologist says Beijing should learn from experiences elsewhere, particularly in lead-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics
Beijing should look at adjusting its zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19, despite the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, as other countries start to open up, Chinese health experts said.
They also called on authorities to learn from the experience of other nations on reopening borders, particularly in the lead-up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Liu Guoen, director of the Peking University China Centre for Health Economic Research, said it would be difficult for the country to achieve zero cases given the rapid spread of the Delta variant. He told a webinar organised by tech firm Baidu on Friday that “serious and systematic discussion” was needed to decide whether to “adjust and optimise the current strategy”.

Speaking at the same event, Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, agreed that changes were needed to build stronger herd immunity and move towards ending the zero-Covid-19 approach.

“The vast majority are mild cases [in China’s latest outbreak], which should not have caused so much panic and pressure,” Zeng said. “Staying at zero cases is absolutely impossible from the perspective of the whole world … and other countries will not wait for zero cases before they open their borders.”


Covid-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as Delta variant spreads to 10 provinces

Covid-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as Delta variant spreads to 10 provinces
China is facing its worse outbreak in months, fuelled by the Delta variant, after a cluster emerged at an airport in Nanjing on July 20. It has now spread to at least 17 provinces, with dozens of cities affected including Wuhan, where the pandemic first erupted, Zhengzhou, a city recovering from last month’s deadly floods, and the capital Beijing.
Case numbers are relatively low – more than 600 infections so far in a population of 1.4 billion – and no deaths have been reported, but authorities have ordered millions of people to get tested and imposed travel curbs and lockdowns as they try to contain the outbreak.
These and other measures helped China achieve zero locally transmitted cases and 2.3 per cent GDP growth during pandemic-hit 2020. But there are growing concerns the zero-tolerance strategy could start to bring more economic costs than benefits, especially as other nations move towards “living with the virus”. Those concerns have seen investment banks including Nomura and Goldman Sachs either cutting or signalling they may cut forecasts for China’s economic growth in the second half of the year.

CDC epidemiologist Zeng said more people needed to get vaccinated as mass immunisation remained the key to adjusting pandemic controls, and development of new vaccines should be pushed forward.

He said China would eventually reopen its borders as other countries were doing, but it was important to reach a consensus on when it would be safe to do so.

“We should also learn from the experience of countries such as Britain, Israel and Singapore … to see how much resurgence [in infections] has occurred, whether the situation has improved … and whether there is public support,” Zeng said.

He said this was important ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics – to be held in Beijing in February – when a different approach may need to be taken. “This will be a challenge for the capital city and one we need to deal with well,” Zeng said. “[It will also be] a process of improving our ideas.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: call for change in zero-cases strategy