A leading health chief in China has called for the one-party state to think again about it’s zero Covid policy. China, where the virus first was detected in late 2019 in the central city of Wuhan, is the last major country trying to stop coronavirus transmission completely through quarantines, lockdowns and mass testing. Concerns over vaccination rates are believed to figure prominently in the ruling Communist Party’s determination to stick to its hard-line strategy.
While nine in 10 Chinese have been vaccinated, only 66 percent of people over 80 have gotten one shot while 40 percent have received a booster, according to the commission. It said 86 percent of people over 60 are vaccinated.
Given those figures and the fact that relatively few Chinese have been built up antibodies by being exposed to the virus, some fear millions could die if restrictions were lifted entirely.
Yet, an outpouring of public anger appears to have prompted authorities to lift some of the more onerous restrictions, even as they say the “zero-COVID” strategy — which aims to isolate every infected person — is still in place.
The demonstrations, the largest and most widely spread in decades, erupted November 25 after a fire in an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
Now the leader of the Shanghai team tackling COVID-19, Zhang Wenhong is also calling on the Communist Party to drop the zero COVID policy.
Mr Zhang argued, instead, for greater vaccine cover and earlier drug intervention across the country.
He said: “Through vaccination and drug treatment, we may have entered a phase where we can tame and control the virus.”
The country saw several days of protests across cities including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters demanding an easing of COVID-19 curbs.
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On Sunday, China announced another 35,775 cases from the past 24 hours, 31,607 of which were asymptomatic, bringing its total to 336,165 with 5,235 deaths.
While many have questioned the accuracy of the Chinese figures, they remain relatively low compared to the US and other nations which are now relaxing controls and trying to live with the virus that has killed at least 6.6 million people worldwide and sickened almost 650 million.
China still imposes mandatory quarantine for incoming travellers even as its infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion population.