Warning of 2 million deaths fails to sway Xi to use Western vaccines

Taipei: The United States’ top spy says Chinese President Xi Jinping is refusing to use Western vaccines despite warnings that up to two million people could die in China if he ditches the country’s hard-line zero-COVID policy.

Xi is “unwilling to take a better vaccine from the West, and is instead relying on a vaccine in China that’s just not nearly as effective against Omicron”, said US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Chinese President Xi Jinping gets an update on vaccine development at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing in the early stages of the pandemic.Credit:Getty

The country is at particular risk because it has relatively low vaccination rates among the elderly, and a lack of herd immunity.

Haines told a defence forum in California on the weekend that the US did not perceive recent protests in China as a threat to Communist Party rule, but added how they developed would “be important to Xi’s standing”.

China has one of the world’s toughest approaches to the virus, which has kept deaths low. According to official figures, there have been fewer than 6000 deaths.

But it has achieved this through mass testing, citywide lockdowns and mandatory quarantines, severely disrupting the freedoms of its citizens and battering the economy.

Women, some not wearing masks, cross a road near closed shops in Beijing on Sunday.Credit:Getty Images

Late last month, public frustration spilled over into unprecedented protests in more than 20 cities. They followed a fire in the western region of Xinjiang that killed at least 10 people – with citizens suggesting COVID restrictions had prevented the victims from escaping, something local authorities have denied.

Demonstrations in cities including Shanghai morphed into calls for Xi and the ruling Communist Party to step down, open expressions of dissent that are extremely rare in the country. Police detained an unknown number of people during the protests.

Since those demonstrations took place a week ago, authorities have moved to stop others happening with a heavy police presence.

But China has also been easing COVID restrictions. At the weekend, residents in Beijing cheered the removal of some testing booths, with people no longer needing to show negative test results to enter supermarkets. From Monday, residents no longer need to present results to take the metro.

The tech hub city of Shenzhen announced commuters would no longer need a negative test result to use public transport or enter parks.

In a paper published by the Shanghai Journal of Preventive Medicine last month, Zhou Jiatong, head of the Centre for Disease Control in China’s Guangxi region, said the mainland faced more than 2 million deaths if it loosened restrictions in the same way Hong Kong did earlier this year.

On Sunday, China reported 31,824 new daily cases. There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend, although police were out in force in several areas of Beijing and Shanghai.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, the country’s chief COVID official, said last week the ability of the virus to cause disease was weakening – a change in messaging which suggested a possible start of relaxation of COVID rules.

The Telegraph, London

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