Even as a new pre-published study suggests that if China scraps COVID-Zero, they face an avalanche of more than a million deaths, the head of the WHO interpreted that study to imply that China was ill-prepared and losing control, suggesting that they urgently change track.

“We don’t think that it is sustainable, considering the behavior of the virus and what we anticipate in the future,” he said, adding that the health body had discussed the issue with Chinese experts. “We indicated that the approach will not be sustainable. … A shift would be very important.”   -Tedros

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, often shortened to Tedros, is certainly the most controversial and perhaps politically damaging WHO head in its history. The first head elected through a secret ballot of WHO members rather than a board election, much speculation has suggested that Tedros got this position through political maneuvering to pull the support of China and the many states that are politically indebted to it. His role outside of the WHO also carries significant political baggage, with his political party and ethnic group now fighting a civil war against the UN-recognized government in Adhis Ababa. The central government accuses him of using his position to arm the rebels, exacerbating the bloody conflict, an allegation Tedros denies, but one which may prevent his return to Ethiopia after his tenure at the WHO.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tedros’ tenure has also been littered with missteps and misinformation, with the WHO consistently refusing to air on the side of caution, waiting months before either declaring COVID a pandemic or suggesting that masks be used.

The WHO also refused to admit that COVID was airborne for two years, and the WHO twitter still reflects this disinformation as of May 2022.

They also suggested that states should not close their borders with restrictions, such as quarantines, even though such moves staved off the initial waves for years in countries like Taiwan and New Zealand before both decided to open for economic reasons.

Tedros was also heavily criticized for agressively speaking out in support of China’s response to the initial outbreak in Wuhan, one marked by the same brutal quarantines that ironically he is now criticizing in Shanghai, and one in which China closed domestic transit links to prevent in-country spread, but deliberately left international airports fully open, in what appeared to be an attempt to encourage the international spread of the virus. This led to Donald Trump’s attempt to pull funding from the WHO.

Under Tedros’ administration, the WHO also skipped the Greek letter Xi when naming the Omicron strain, ensuring that the Chinese dictator would not share the name of the most infectious strain of COVID yet, in another move seen as the organization and its head being beholden to China.

This makes Tedros’ shift to criticizing Chinese policies a marked transition from the previous support offered.

This study, supported by Fudan University and the Chinese Ministry of Education, also marks a transition, although its outcomes along with Tedros’ suggestions are being heavily criticized by the Chinese government. This likely implies that those views are heterodox and will be suppressed, indicating no change of direction for a stability-focused PRC.

Even though the lead authors are in China, they explicitly state, “whether and for how long a zero COVID policy can remain in place is questionable and, as recommended by the WHO, every country should be prepared to chart its own path to transit from a pandemic to an endemic phase,” suggesting that the WHO advocates political deemphasis of COVID.

The changing direction of the WHO though marks a China increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, most of whom have chosen economic lubrication and freer travel over public health as they gave up control over the virus.

China’s response has been harsh, and directly criticizes Western inaction, labelling it “laying flat,” a Chinese phenomenon where individuals when under intense pressure, rather than standing to meet the challenge, choose to passively lay flat, embracing their powerlessness and refusing to fight by letting the world trample them.

A Global Times editorial criticising Tedros’ statement

While the Western media has been quick to highlight dissent against the COVID-zero regime, its utter lack of coverage of dissent over any other issue masks ignorance to the fact that such dissent is fleeting, and will likely be brutally repressed. As such, the chance that elites may once again travel to China soon to monitor their factories are close to nil.