Tedros, who became the first W.H.O. chief without a medical doctorate thanks largely to China’s support, told reporters on Tuesday that it was important for governments to “change their measures” for addressing the pandemic as the virus evolves and that the organization did not think rolling lockdowns of major metropolises was “sustainable” given how contagious the latest variants of Chinese coronavirus are.

“As we all know the virus is evolving, changing its behaviors, becoming more transmissible and with that changing behavior, changing your measures will be very important,” Tedros said. “When we talk about the zero COVID strategy, we don’t think that it is sustainable considering the behavior of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future, and especially when we have now a good knowledge, understanding of the virus.”

The Chinese government initially reacted to Tedros’s remarks – made in response to a question about China’s month-long lockdown of its largest city, Shanghai – by censoring them on state-controlled social media outlet Weibo.

Users reported on Wednesday that government censors were deleting not just posts featuring the W.H.O. chief’s comments, including one posted by the official account of the United Nations, but any references to the W.H.O. and Tedros, including photos of Tedros himself.

File/Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization, (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on January 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Naohiko Hatta – Pool/Getty)

The Global Times subsequently published a screed featuring anonymous comments by alleged Chinese health experts condemning Tedros for questioning the wisdom of forcing millions into house arrest or quarantine camps and for not similarly condemning the United States, which has never implemented Chinese policies like welding people shut in their homes or installing electronic monitors on doors to ensure that residents do not leave.

“World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ remarks that China’s zero-COVID strategy is ‘unsustainable’ was seen by Chinese experts as ‘irresponsible’ comment [sic] on the Chinese people’s efforts in fighting the pandemic,” the Global Times declared, “and failed to reflect his, or WHO’s, sufficient evaluation of China’s efforts in this area.”

The propaganda newspaper warned that Tedros’ assessment of China’s lockdowns could create “an unnecessary negative influence on the effect, approach and global contribution of China’s antivirus work” – a potential nod to the fact that the Shanghai lockdown, in particular, has led to widespread civil unrest, including attacks on government workers and police.

Shanghai is the economic heart of China and geopolitically significant due to being an investor and manufacturing hub. The total lockdown of the city, which began in early April, has devastated its economy, bringing down key economic indicators like industrial production, consumer prices, and retail sales.

An anonymous “expert from the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University” – in other words, not a medical or public health expert – told the Global Times that Tedros had “failed to grasp a full and accurate evaluation of China’s fight against [Chinese coronavirus], and such remarks, coming from a person in his position, is irresponsible for the 1.4 billion people’s effort in fighting the coronavirus.”

“The expert from China Foreign Affairs University also said that Tedros and WHO never directly chided some Western countries, when they failed to control the outbreak in their countries, which has led to millions of deaths,” the newspaper added.

“It is also possible that some Western media, such as Reuters, deliberately shuffled the question to Tedros, to undermine the global contribution of China’s [Chinese coronavirus] fight,” the anonymous alleged “expert” continued, implying that Tedros simply did not have the intelligence to understand the brutal lockdowns the Communist Party is subjecting its people to. Reuters was the news agency that asked Tedros about the lockdowns.

Similarly, alleged Chinese “epidemiologists” said, according to the propaganda outlet, that Tedros’s “knowledge on this strategy [lockdowns] is limited.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry addressed Tedros’s warning that indefinite lockdowns were unsustainable on Wednesday, avoiding insulting Tedros personally but making false claims to the policy’s success.

“The overwhelming majority of the Chinese population in most parts of the country can enjoy normal life and production,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian – who has officially accused the U.S. Army of causing the Chinese coronavirus pandemic – told reporters. “The [Chinese coronavirus] infection rate and mortality rate in China remain the lowest in the world.”

In reality, based on data compiled by governments, North Korea has the lowest infection and mortality rates, documenting zero cases of the virus prior to Thursday.

Millions across China have been under a Covid-spurred lockdown for weeks (AFP)

Zhao also defended the indefinite lockdown policy by claiming that its objective was “bringing [Chinese coronavirus] under control at the minimum social cost in the shortest time possible so as to effectively protect the health, normal life and production of the 1.4 billion Chinese people to the maximum.”

Zhao also claimed that other, lower-ranking W.H.O. officials had praised China’s lockdown policy.

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