Asia

Top China news editor says Covid-Zero benefits may gradually diminish

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – A leading Chinese political commentator called on authorities to pay closer attention to legitimate public concerns about its Covid-Zero approach, adding that the benefits of the policy will diminish over time.

China’s approach could become less popular among Chinese people, particularly if they are “tempted” by the relaxation of restrictions in other parts of the world, Mr Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper, said in a post on social media platform Weibo.

Local governments should pay “very, very close attention” to implementing Covid-19 policies in a considerate way and respond to reasonable demands from citizens, he added.

“As China gradually becomes a ‘lonely island’ striving for zero infections, its comparative advantage over an open model is likely to gradually diminish,” Mr Hu said, adding that China “must strengthen the rationality” of the Covid-Zero policy.

Chinese policy makers have come under pressure to defend the country’s Covid-Zero policy of containment as other adherents such as Singapore and Australia shift to living with the virus.

China is now dealing with its most widespread outbreak since the pathogen was first detected in 2019, with the highly infectious Delta variant finding its way past aggressive measures to thwart it.

The policy has sparked outcry from some citizens amid disruptions to business and daily life.

Last Sunday, nearly 34,000 people at Shanghai Disneyland underwent testing after one visitor tested positive for the virus.

Even while saying “humanisation” was becoming “more and more important”, Mr Hu said China should resist calls to abandon Covid-Zero for the moment.

Mr Hu is one of China’s most influential commentators, whose publication is often used to send messages to the outside world.

“If the border is fully opened right now and contact tracing abandoned, like the US, the consequences will be unimaginable,” he said.

“If the whole country becomes another Hubei, there will be more opposition from the public, there will be more problems and the cost would be higher.”

Dr Zhong Nanshan, the prominent pulmonologist who heads a Covid-19 task force set up after the virus first emerged in late 2019, said on Monday that China has “no option” but to continue containment efforts.

“It is indeed costly to adopt the strategy of zero transmission, but leaving Covid uncontrolled and opening up will be even more so,” he told state broadcaster CCTV.

Another senior health adviser said in August that China should move away from its Covid-Zero approach when elimination no longer works to the country’s advantage.

“When the dividend on Covid-Zero no longer exists, we won’t do that,” Dr Zeng Guang, the former chief scientist of epidemiology at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with ifeng.com, the news portal of Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.

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