China’s top respiratory diseases expert has defended the country’s zero-Covid strategy against scrutiny from some public health experts, saying it was still less costly than living with the disease and reintroducing restrictions each time outbreaks occurred. The country had no option but to aim for zero infections because the coronavirus was replicating quickly and the global death rate of about 2 per cent was unacceptable, Zhong Nanshan said in an interview with CGTN, China’s state-owned international media arm, published late on Monday. “Some countries have decided to open up entirely despite still having a few infections,” Zhong said. “That led to a large number of infections in the past two months and they decided to reimpose restrictions. This flip-flopping approach is actually more costly. The psychological impact on citizens and society is greater.” China has maintained one of the toughest approaches to containing Covid-19 as multiple countries, such as the UK, Singapore and South Korea, have decided to ease restrictions on travel and social gathering while encouraging vaccination in an attempt to return to normalcy. Although Covid-19 cases have increased and deaths have been recorded in those countries, mass vaccination has limited the severity of symptoms and reduced the burden on health care systems. Zhong said China’s approach was here to stay for a “considerably long time” but the exact duration would depend on how well other countries fared in containing the virus. “No matter how well China does, once it opens up and has imported cases, transmission will definitely occur in the country,” he said. “Therefore I believe, for now, that the zero-transmission strategy is not too costly, but is in fact a relatively less costly method.” Last month, Zhong said strict measures against the coronavirus were needed because China’s vaccination rate had not passed 80 per cent. As of last Friday, 1.07 billion people, or 76 per cent of China’s population, had been fully vaccinated, according to the Covid-19 control task force working under the State Council, China’s cabinet. Despite China’s localised lockdowns, mass testing, border restrictions and limitations on movement linked to travel history, at least seven local outbreaks have emerged since mass vaccination began in March. Some outbreaks have been linked to imported cases in border regions. China rejects ‘living with Covid-19’ model even as spikes get ‘more common’ China’s leadership has based its Covid-19 strategy on minimising cases and deaths at all costs, with state media hailing its success in containing outbreaks as a vindication of the ruling Communist Party. On Tuesday, party mouthpiece People’s Daily published a front-page article titled “Putting the people’s lives and health first”, praising President Xi Jinping. “Under the strong leadership of the party Central Committee with comrade Xi Jinping as the core, our country has overcome the impact of the pandemic, coordinated anti-epidemic measures, while socioeconomic development had achieved significant results,” the piece said, adding that China was the only major economy to report economic growth in 2020. State media has also highlighted regularly the death toll in the United States, which is the highest in the world in absolute terms, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, more than 5 million people have died because of Covid-19 since the coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, central China, in late 2019. China’s total deaths stood at 4,849, compared with 747,033 in the US, the university’s data showed. In recent weeks, China has reported cases in 16 provinces or regions, stemming from infections among domestic tourists and imported cases in Heihe, a city of 1.3 million people in the northeastern Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia.