China’s current COVID-19 strategy suits us best, says top infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong after misinterpreted remarks sparked debate
Published: Aug 19, 2021 12:33 AM
Zhang Wenhong. Photo: VCG

Zhang Wenhong. Photo: VCG

China's current COVID-19 coping strategy is the one that suits us the best, Zhang Wenhong, a top infectious disease expert, said on Wednesday, breaking his silence of more than 20 days after his previous "coexist with coronavirus in the long run" remarks were misinterpreted and sparked debate about China's anti-epidemic strategy.

Zhang, a leading infectious disease expert in Shanghai who is also dubbed as "China's Fauci," briefed the public on his Sina Weibo account on Wednesday on his busy agendas in recent days, which include summarizing treatment experience for Delta variant with fellow Shanghai experts, receiving patients, and attend meetings after Shanghai reported a COVID-19 case on Wednesday morning.

At the end of his long post, Zhang said that China still faces great challenges from COVID-19 "but we must have steadfast faith. Our country's current anti-epidemic strategy is what suits us the best. Only the one who wears the shoes knows if the shoes fit," said Zhang.

The doctor broke silence since his last Sina Weibo post on July 29 in response to the COVID-19 flare up in Nanjing, where he said that "the world needs to learn to coexist with the virus."

The remarks soon sparked debates after many Chinese netizens, as well as foreign media outlets, misinterpreted Zhang's opinion as a proposal for China to change its current "zero tolerance" strategy, which has proved successful as it timely reduced viral contagion and helped the economy to quickly rebound. 

The criticism against Zhang and the "coexist with virus" approach further escalated after Gao Qiang, China's former health minister, published an article on media where he recommended to continue with the stringent COVID-19 prevention policies and dismissed ideas of a laissez-faire attitude by abandoning the harsh epidemic control measures, as some Western countries did. 

Yet, an official from China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times that "there is no fundamental dispute among officials and experts on China's model to fight the epidemic, as saying 'coexistence with the virus' cannot be interpreted out of context, given the characteristics of the virus such as variants and transmissibility." 

Before Zhang, similar points of view have been expressed by numerous experts, including China's top epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, Chinese Center of Disease Control Director Gao Fu, and renowned Chinese respiratory specialist Wang Chen. 

Zeng Guang, a former chief epidemiologist at the Chinese CDC, previously told the Global Times that China's current zero-tolerance strategy does not contradict the approach of "coexist with virus." "Zero-COVID strategy helps the society quickly bounce back from the pandemic shadow. We gained from it. When such benefits are gone, we will adjust our policies accordingly," said Zeng, confiding that coexistence with the virus is a consequence in the long run. As for now, humans have only eradicated one virus: smallpox. 

One hour after Zhang updated his post, more than 20,000 netizens flooded in to send their good wishes. Many left comments telling Zhang to take care as he worked so hard. Others expressed gratitude for his precious advices on controlling the virus in Shanghai. 

Zhang explained that he remained silent in the past 20 days because he has been busy. "Today there are COVID-19 flareups in Shanghai. I received so many messages asking for my wellbeing," said Zhang. 

Global Times