The World Health Organization (WHO) chief warned that China’s harsh approach to coronavirus containment is unsustainable due to the highly contagious characteristics of the omicron strain, but that each country must decide how to proceed.

In reaction to China’s harsh criticism of similar remarks last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus termed China’s “zero-COVID” strategy “unsustainable” at a press conference on Tuesday (May 17).

“Because we understand the virus better and have better tools, including vaccines,” Tedros stated, “We should treat the virus differently than we did at the start of the pandemic.”

According to him, the virus has developed substantially since its detection in late 2019 in Wuhan, when China ordered lockdowns to prevent its spread. Tedros stated that while the WHO has periodically advised Chinese officials on COVID containment tactics, “each country is responsible for choosing its policy.”

The strict and often haphazard implementation of zero-COVID in China has resulted in significant unrest and food shortages in Shanghai, where some individuals have been imprisoned for six weeks.

What did WHO’s emergency coordinator, Dr. Michael Ryan, have to say about it? Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergency chief, acknowledged that China had recently faced a difficult situation with COVID-19 and congratulated the authorities for keeping the death toll exceptionally low.

“We understand why China’s initial goal was to reduce infections as much as possible,” he said, “but this approach is not sustainable, and other components of the strategic response must be supplemented.” Ryan emphasized that vaccination efforts should continue, stating that “resistance alone is not a viable option for any nation to stop the pandemic.”

Tedros went on to say that the WHO is attempting to persuade North Korea and Eritrea to commence COVID-19 vaccinations.

“WHO is concerned about the possibility of further spread in (North Korea),” Tedros said, noting that the population is unvaccinated and that an alarming number of individuals have pre-existing conditions that put them at risk of serious sickness.

Tedros noted that the WHO has requested additional information about the North Korean pandemic but has not received a response. North Korea openly acknowledged an epidemic on Monday, alleging that nearly 1.7 million people had contracted the disease. It lacks the necessary diagnostic equipment to confirm a large number of COVID-19 cases, even though scientists from outside the country believe the coronavirus is to blame for the vast majority of fever cases.

He added that the WHO has supplied North Korea and Eritrea with vaccines, pharmaceuticals, testing, and technical assistance, but neither country’s government had responded.

According to Ryan, unfettered transmission in countries such as North Korea and Eritrea could result in the emergence of new strains, but the WHO is powerless to intervene unless governments accept its support.

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