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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK

China isn’t following the science in dealing with its Covid outbreak

A man takes a Covid test in Shanghai last month.
A man takes a Covid test in Shanghai. Photograph: Alex Plavevski/EPA

There has been a desire around the world to shield political decisions with science, so I understand the basic logic of the remarks by the Chinese ambassador to the UK (In China, here is what we want the west to know about our Covid response, 30 December). Politics is about the allocation of resources, however, and science always has to operate within a political framework, so it is not the case that decisions have been made on a scientific basis only.

That said, from a strictly public health point of view, the recent opening up of China would best have seen elderly people fully vaccinated with both domestic and international vaccines in advance. It would have taken place in the summer, so as not to disrupt the school calendar and to slow down the rate of infection. Basic medicines would have been made available in sufficient quantities so there was no need for hoarding.

What we have seen instead is a muddled response to politically embarrassing protests. Those protests took place because the leadership was not listening to the science, but was instead in love with levels of state control that it could never justify in normal times. When, occasionally, Chinese scientists called for an end to zero Covid, they were treated as heretics and demonised. What began as a public health campaign morphed into an isolationist political movement. Citizens were no longer free to travel internationally, and some even had their passports cut at airports.

Much political capital was made out of the state’s response to Covid, which was said to prove the superiority of the Chinese political system. This basic line was repeated so tirelessly that it became impossible to backtrack and change course. The student protests would not have been meaningful if they involved just a few thousand disgruntled young people. The protests were effective in ending the policy because they gave voice to what millions of people up and down the country were thinking, but dared not express so openly.
Bill Aitchison
Xiamen, China

• As someone who has spent the last three years residing in China, I fail to recognise the reality that the Chinese ambassador to the UK describes. It is perhaps too easy to state that the Covid-19 situation in China is generally “stable and controllable”, when the lack of a free press and massive state censorship make it impossible to find out what is really happening on the ground.

What is “science-based” about policies that, among a great many other things, have seen people confined inside their buildings, held in unsanitary conditions in large holding camps, and put under extraordinary psychological pressure from the persistent threat of lockdowns. China has not, in fact, withstood five infection waves but is only now experiencing its first real wave. It faces this wave at the beginning of winter, without adequate supplies of basic medicines or antigen tests. The current “optimisation and adjustment of response measures” are not science-based either – the Omicron variant has been in circulation since November 2021.

The ambassador’s stance shows a complete lack of respect to the Chinese people who have suffered under China’s pandemic policies, and to those who have lost family members to the policies, including the 27 in Guizhou, the 10 in Xinjiang and the countless others who died when they were refused ambulances or entry to medical care facilities because they had a fever. If this is the reality that the Chinese ambassador would like us to see, then he appears to be simply trying to export the whitewashing techniques employed as a matter of course by the Chinese government. I hope the British public do not buy it.
Name and address supplied

• The idea that China is trying to politically save face with the rest of the world while the virus runs rampant here is inane. The last three weeks have proven to many in China that the last three years were wasted and that no preparations were made. A doctor I have a personal relationship with in Nanjing has told me that as many people are dying in one day as the hospital is used to seeing in three months.

The vaccine is ineffective. China had the ability to begin producing mRNA vaccines last year and chose not to. Within a week of this abrupt turnaround, I became sick with Covid and was unable to go to hospital or find medicine in pharmacies because they had all been panic-bought by citizens who have lived in fear of the virus for three years.

This so-called scientific approach has meant that the Chinese media have had to spend significant time assuaging the same fears around the virus that they promulgated for years. This is not a scientific approach – and I fear that millions here in China and abroad will suffer.
Name and address supplied

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