China censors WHO statement calling zero-Covid strategy unsustainable
- A Chinese post was removed from the United Nations’ Weibo account, and even pictures of WHO director general were censored
- President Xi Jinping has doubled down on the zero-tolerance policy, even as coronavirus lockdowns in Shanghai cause outrage and protest
A Weibo post on the United Nations account summarising the WHO chief’s remark that China’s zero tolerance approach to Covid-19 was not sustainable was censored on Wednesday morning, soon after it was posted.
“We don’t think that it is sustainable considering the behaviour of the virus and what we now anticipate in the future,” World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing on Tuesday.
“We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts. And we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable … I think a shift would be very important.”
Shanghai rages at endless coronavirus lockdown
A Chinese post on the United Nations Weibo account giving notice of the comments was removed and soon after being censored, internet users searching for the post were given a notification that the content was illegal.
While traces of the removal were then further erased from Weibo – China’s Twitter-like social media platform – many Weibo users complained that not only were screen captures of the UN post removed, but even pictures of Tedros became a target of China’s sophisticated social media censorship apparatus.
“Even some of the Ghebreyesus pictures were censored – will this one stay?” said one Weibo user, as he posted a general picture of the director general.
Another wrote: “Even the United Nations news centre [account] and Ghebreyesus were censored, it is getting worse”.
But most internet users expressed their frustrations with Tedros, with criticism including comments that he turned a blind eye to the deaths caused by Covid-19.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made clear recently that China’s zero-tolerance policy would stay.
Chinese web users get creative to dodge Covid censorship
China has imposed draconian measures to fight the virus, trapping most of Shanghai’s 25 million people at home for weeks as the country combats its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.
The Shanghai lockdown has caused outrage and rare protest in the last major economy still glued to a zero-Covid policy, while movement in the capital city of Beijing has been slowly restricted.
There is a pressing political dynamic to China’s virus response, with President Xi Jinping pegging the legitimacy of his leadership on protecting Chinese lives from Covid.
WHO estimates that Covid killed some 15 million in 2020-21
Xi has doubled down on the zero-Covid approach, despite mounting public frustration.
Shanghai is China’s economic dynamo and its biggest city. The zero-Covid policy has winded an economy which, just months ago, had been bouncing back from the pandemic.
“We need to balance the control measures against the impact they have on society, the impact they have on the economy, and that’s not always an easy calibration,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.
He said any measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic should show “due respect to individual and human rights”.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said that worldwide, it was impossible to stop all transmission of the virus.
“Our goal, at a global level, is not to find all cases and stop all transmissions. It’s really not possible at this present time,” she said.
“But what we need to do is drive transmission down because the virus is circulating at such an intense level.”