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Top US health official: China’s ‘zero COVID strategy’ not realistic

White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha on Sunday indicated China’s “zero COVID” strategy is not realistic.

During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” anchor Martha Raddatz asked Jha about demonstrations in cities across China over the weekend protesting the strategy, which seeks to isolate and eliminate every COVID-19 case, leading to lockdowns for millions of residents in recent months.

“Obviously, that is not our strategy,” Jha said. “We don’t think that’s realistic, certainly not realistic for the American people. Our strategy has been build up immunity in the population by getting people vaccinated. That’s how you managed an incredibly contagious variant like omicron.”

COVID-19 cases in China have hit record levels in recent days as most of the population remains unexposed to the virus, creating new restrictions in many areas of the country as places like the U.S. move away from coronavirus mandates.

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A deadly apartment fire last week in the northwestern city of Urumqi has caused resentment to swell further, with some citizens now taking to the streets in a rare show of defiance, suggesting the lockdown measures delayed firefighters’ response to the tragedy and led to more deaths. 

“I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for China to be able to contain this through their zero COVID strategy,” Jha said on ABC. “I would recommend that they pursue the strategy of making sure everybody gets vaccinated, particularly their elderly. That I think is the path out of this virus. Lockdown and zero COVID is going to be very difficult to sustain.”

The protests were met with violence from police in places like Shanghai, who sought to break up demonstrators as some demonstrators chanted “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” while standing on a road named for the city where the fire occurred.

Hours later, crowds returned to the same street on Sunday, shouting “We don’t want PCR tests, we want freedom!”

But Xi, who recently began his third term as China’s leader and increasingly surrounded himself with loyalists, so far has shown no sign of stopping the “zero COVID” strategy as the country approaches the three-year anniversary of discovering its first case in Wuhan, China.

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