WHO says COVID-19 pandemic end in sight, China disagrees

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Chinese are reacting with pessimism and humor to the World Health Organization chief saying the end of the pandemic is within reach, with millions of people still locked down as the country refuses to live with Covid.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that “we have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet, but the end is in sight.”

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In the vibrant but closed-off world of China’s internet, the response was rueful. Many noted that this shift wouldn’t apply to China, where the government continues to prosecute Covid pretty much as it did at the start of the pandemic in early 2020 -- by trying to cut off transmission and wipe the pathogen out with intensive restrictions.

One online joke said the WHO boss can’t say the pandemic is near its end because Covid control measures are still in full swing in China.

A hashtag on Tedros’s comments that quickly gathered some 4.5 million views Thursday morning local time appeared to have been removed, and Chinese media outlets turned off the comment function on Weibo posts sharing the news.

The Chinese government heavily censors the country’s internet and social media. Covid Zero is inextricably bound to President Xi Jinping, which makes it particularly sensitive.

Beijing defends the strategy by saying it saves lives, while criticizing the US for its more than one million Covid deaths.

Another person wrote sarcastically: “Everything should be directed to the National Health Commission,” a reference to the fact it carries out Xi’s strategy in China, not the WHO.

“Chinese people are living such a happy life under the distorted Covid Zero policy,” another remarked.

Beijing is enforcing an even tougher version of Covid Zero before a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress due to start on October 16, an event that’s expected to hand Xi more time in power.

Areas near the capital have been locked down, testing rules tightened, and domestic travel discouraged.

Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a report Tuesday that they didn’t expect Beijing to change tack on virus policy until after the annual National People’s Congress some time in the first half of next year. Other experts have warned Covid Zero could be kept in place long term, perhaps even for years.

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