Shanghai officials said on Wednesday that half the city had achieved “zero COVID” status, but uncompromising restrictions had to remain in place under a national policy that the head of the World Health Organization described as “unsustainable.”
Data released by Shanghai, in its sixth week of a painful lockdown, showed the city recorded no cases outside areas under the strictest curbs on Tuesday for the first time since 1 May.
Half of the city’s 16 districts had achieved zero COVID status having not recorded any such cases for three days.
Despite achieving that important milestone, officials said it was not time to ease curbs.
“We must clearly recognise that the current situation is not stable and the risk of a rebound still remains, Zhao Dandan, deputy director of Shanghai’s health commission, told an online press conference.
China’s “zero COVID” approach has meant hundreds of millions across dozens of cities face various degrees of restrictions on movement, most dramatically in Shanghai.
Beijing said on Wednesday it detected 37 new infections on 10 May, the lowest since 26 April. Shanghai’s cases were down to their lowest since 23 March at 1 487.
The ruthlessly-enforced isolation has caused significant economic damage in China and beyond and taken a huge psychological toll on many, fuelling rare outpourings of anger at the authorities.
In Beijing, where authorities were trying to avoid Shanghai’s fate, many businesses have been closed and large numbers of people were told to work from home in an effort to end an outbreak of dozens of daily cases.
In rare public comments on a government’s handling of the pandemic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday that China’s zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy is not sustainable given what is now known about the virus.
He said better tools to fight COVID suggested it was time for a change in approach. China, which has kept its borders all but shut to international travel for two years, is a global outlier as much of the world tries to live with the virus.
A United Nations Weibo post of Tedros’ comments was removed from the Twitter-like platform on Wednesday shortly after being posted. The United Nations and Weibo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The WeChat platform blocked sharing of a similar UN post, citing a “violation of rules.”