People hold white sheets of paper and flowers in a row as police check their ID cards during a protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in mainland China, during a memorial for victims of the Urumqi fire, Hong Kong, China, November 28, 2022 .
Tyrone Sioux | Reuters
The White House on Monday criticized Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy as ineffective and said the Chinese people have a right to peaceful protest.
“We have long said that everyone has the right to peaceful protest here in the United States and around the world. Including in the PRC,” President Joe Biden, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
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Rare protests against Covid lockdowns erupted in Beijing, Shanghai, Urumqi and other cities over the weekend. Nearly three years after the virus first emerged in Wuhan, China is still imposing strict social controls to quell Covid outbreaks while countries like the US have largely returned to normal.
“We said COVID zero is not the policy we have here in the United States,” a NSC spokesman said. “And as we said before, we think it will be very difficult for the People’s Republic of China to contain this virus with their COVID zero strategy.”
The U.S. response to Covid aims to increase vaccination rates and increase the availability of testing and treatment, the spokesman said.
Strict Covid control measures in China have reduced deaths compared to the US, but these measures have also severely disrupted economic and social life. More than 30,000 people have died from Covid in China since the start of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. More than 1 million people have died in the US.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading U.S. infectious disease expert, said China’s approach to Covid “doesn’t make sense for public health.” Vaccination rates for the elderly, one of the groups most vulnerable to Covid, are lower in China than in other countries. The vaccination campaign in China has targeted critically ill people first, then people aged 18 to 59, and only then people aged 60 and over.
“If you look at the prevalence of vaccinations among the elderly, you can see that it was almost counterproductive, people that you really should have protected were not getting protection,” Fauci told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. A temporary lockdown might make sense if the goal is to buy time to boost vaccination rates, he said, but China doesn’t seem to be doing that.
“It looks like in China it was just a very, very strict emergency lockdown where you locked people in the house, but without any finale,” Fauci said.
As of August, about 86% of people aged 60 and over in China had been fully vaccinated, and 68% had received a booster. According to the September report of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, 92% of older Americans were fully vaccinated, and 70% received a booster during the same period.
Fauci said domestically developed Chinese vaccines are also not very effective.
The authors of the China CDC report said older people are more skeptical about the vaccine. They wrote that clinical trials did not include enough older people and, as a result, there was not enough data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for that age group when the immunization campaign began.
Dr. Ashish Jha, head of the White House Covid task force, said China should focus on vaccinating the elderly.
“I think this is the way to get rid of this virus. Lockdown and zero COVID will be very difficult to sustain,” Jha said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.