GENEVA – The head of the World Health Organization says China’s extreme approach to containing the coronavirus is not sustainable due to the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant, but it is up to each country to decide which policy to follow.
“We know the virus better and we have better equipment, including vaccines, so the management of the virus should actually be different from what we did at the beginning of the epidemic,” Tedros said. He added that the virus has changed significantly since it was first identified in Wuhan in late 2019, when China stopped its spread through a lockdown.
Tedros said the WHO had repeatedly advised Chinese officials about their proposed Covid control strategy, but that “in terms of their preferred policy, that choice depends on each country.”
The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-covid in China has sparked considerable discontent and food shortages in Shanghai, where some residents have been under lockdown for more than a month.
WHO emergency chief Dr Michael Ryan said the agency acknowledged that China had recently faced a difficult situation with COVID-19 and praised the authorities for keeping the death toll to a very low level.
“We understand why China’s initial response was to try to suppress the infection at the highest level (but) that strategy is not sustainable and other elements of the strategic response need to be expanded,” he said. Ryan added that vaccination efforts should continue and emphasize that “a suppression-only strategy is not a sustainable way out of an epidemic for any country.”
WHO chief Tedros also said the agency was trying to persuade North Korea and Eritrea to launch the Covid-19 vaccine.
“The WHO (North Korea) is deeply concerned about the risk of further outbreaks,” Tedros said.
Tedros said the WHO had asked North Korea to share more information about the outbreak there – which state media said affected more than 1 million people – but had not yet responded. He said the WHO had offered to send vaccines, drugs, tests and technical assistance to both North Korea and Eritrea, but no country had yet responded.
Ryan said any uncontrolled outbreak in countries like North Korea and Eritrea could encourage the emergence of new forms, but the WHO was unable to act until the countries accepted its assistance.
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