China must insist on a “ dynamic zero-Covid ” policy or risk disaster because of the low vaccination rate among the elderly and a lack of medical resources, according to the country’s top Covid-19 strategy official. Addressing a media panel in Beijing on Friday, Liang Wannian , head of the expert panel leading the country’s Covid-19 response, said the policy was like “insurance for the 1.4 billion people”, given the dangers brought by the Omicron variant. Liang said those risks warranted the cost to the country, including of vaccines, mass screenings and building makeshift hospitals. He said the policy was a general guideline and the specific measures could be modified over time. But the core of the policy was to quickly discover outbreaks and take a series of speedy measures to cut transmission and prevent community spread, he said. “The key is to effectively recognise and manage the source of transmission, cut transmission chains, and protect vulnerable groups so that the outbreak does not rebound on a large scale,” he said. But he also acknowledged the need to balance pandemic prevention with the lives of the public, including their medical needs. Liang added that there needed to be an emergency mechanism, proper channels for supplying necessities, a stock of medical items for pandemic prevention, including masks and ventilators, and other tools, including nucleic acid tests, quarantine centres and transport vehicles. During the weeks-long lockdown in Shangha i, many members of the public have complained of food shortages, poor management and inconveniences caused by restrictions. There have also been reports of people dying after being denied timely medical care because they could not show a negative Covid-19 test result. There were fresh complaints on Saturday when several neighbourhoods in the city gave orders for a “hard quarantine”, enclosing the residential compounds with steel fences and only allowing medical staff to enter and exit through an emergency door. But Liang stressed again that even though a large proportion of Omicron patients had only mild infections, “it would be a huge disaster” if China relaxed restrictions. As of last week, about 81 per cent of the elderly had been fully vaccinated, Liang said. “Once we relax control, the virus will spread widely and there will be many heavy cases and deaths among the elderly,” he said. “The huge number of heavy cases will take a toll on the medical system, and if medical staff get infected, medical services cannot be provided, and there will be a vicious cycle.” In the past, Liang and other health officials have repeatedly stressed that China will only consider adjusting its strict virus response after overall conditions change at home and overseas, including having better tools to fight the virus, the prevalence of a less dangerous strain and the pandemic becoming less serious abroad. The official People’s Daily echoed Liang’s comments on Saturday, saying a dynamic zero-Covid policy had the lowest overall cost and was the best choice for China at present. “In the short term, strict prevention and control measures will inevitably affect a city’s economic and social development and people’s lives, but in the long term, the temporary convenience is to ensure healthy and long-lasting development,” it said.