China labels WHO remarks on 'zero-COVID' 'irresponsible'

Workers in protective overalls conduct mass COVID testing for residents on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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Workers in protective overalls conduct mass COVID testing for residents on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

China on Wednesday defended sticking to its strict “zero-COVID” approach, calling critical remarks from the World Health Organization “irresponsible.”

BEIJING (AP) — China on Wednesday defended sticking to its strict “zero-COVID” approach, calling critical remarks from the head of the World Health Organization “irresponsible.”

The response from the Foreign Ministry came after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had been discussing with Chinese experts the need for a different approach in light of new knowledge about the virus.

“When we talk about the ‘zero-COVID,’ we don’t think that it’s sustainable, considering the behavior of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future,” Tedros said.

Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing Wednesday, “We hope that relevant people can view China’s policy of epidemic prevention and control objectively and rationally, get more knowledge about the facts and refrain from making irresponsible remarks."

“The Chinese government’s policy of epidemic prevention and control can stand the test of history, and our prevention and control measures are scientific and effective," Zhao said. “China is one of the most successful countries in epidemic prevention and control in the world, which is obvious to all of the international community.”

Earlier Wednesday, deputy director of Shanghai’s Center for Disease Control Wu Huanyu reaffirmed the approach's importance in eliminating a waning outbreak. He told reporters that while progress has been made, relaxing prevention and control measures could allow the virus to rebound.

“At the same time, now is also the most difficult and critical moment for our city to achieve zero-COVID," Wu said at a daily briefing.

Wu gave no indication he was aware of the comments by Tedros.

Tedros was joined by Mike Ryan, the WHO's emergencies chief, who said all pandemic control actions should “show due respect to individual and human rights."

Countries need to “balance the control measures, the impact on society, the impact on the economy. That is not always an easy calibration to make," Ryan said.

The incident marked a rare public show of friction between China and the WHO, which has been accused of succumbing to Chinese pressure to avoid criticism and awkward questions about the origins of the virus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

China's ruling Communist Party has strictly controlled all discussion about its controversial approach, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks, and said it would tolerate no criticism, questioning or distortion of the strategy. The entirely state-controlled media did not report on the comments by Tedros and Ryan and references to them on the Chinese internet appeared to have been removed by censors.

The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-COVID has stirred considerable resentment in Shanghai, where some residents have been under lockdown for more than a month. As of Wednesday, more than 2 million people in the city remained confined to their residential compounds, while restrictions had been slightly relaxed for most of the other 23 million.

However, the easing appears to now be on hold, even as the number of new cases falls in the city that is home to China's busiest port, main stock market and thousands of Chinese and foreign firms. People in some areas have been ordered to stay home again after having been let out for limited shopping in recent weeks. On Tuesday, service was suspended on the last two subway lines that were still operating.

Complaints have centered on shortages of food and other daily necessities and the forced removal of thousands of people to quarantine centers after having tested positive or having been in contact with an infected person, standard procedure in China's zero-COVID approach.

Along with the human cost, the adherence to "zero-COVID" as many other countries loosen restrictions and try to live with the virus is exacting a growing economic toll.

However, the party under leader Xi Jinping shows no sign of backing off amid efforts to ensure stability and shore up its authority ahead of a major party congress this fall.

Chinese experts such as Wu have been careful to toe the party line, saying the strategy has been effective in limiting the official death toll in mainland China and that any let-up risks sparking a major new surge.

The daily number of new cases in Shanghai reported on Wednesday had fallen to less than 1,500, down from a peak of 26,000 in mid-April. Seven more COVID-19-related deaths were reported, raising the toll from the outbreak to 560.

While China says more than 88% of its population is fully vaccinated, the rate is considerably lower among the vulnerable elderly. Questions have also been raised about the efficacy of Chinese-produced vaccines compared to those from Europe and the United States.

In the capital Beijing, residents have been ordered to undergo mass testing in a bid to prevent a major outbreak like that in Shanghai. The city, which reported 37 new cases on Wednesday, has locked down individual buildings and residential compounds, shut about 60 subway stations and banned dining at restaurants, allowing only takeout and delivery.

The vast Forbidden City museum complex, the ancient home of China's former emperors, will also be closing from Thursday to “reduce the danger of virus transmission in society posed by the circulation of people," it said in a statement.

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Residents line up for mass COVID testing on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Residents line up for mass COVID testing on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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Residents line up for mass COVID testing on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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Workers in protective overalls direct residents to a mass COVID test site on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Workers in protective overalls direct residents to a mass COVID test site on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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Workers in protective overalls direct residents to a mass COVID test site on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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A delivery man checks his phone, as another moves past a shuttered news stand on a quiet street on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

A delivery man checks his phone, as another moves past a shuttered news stand on a quiet street on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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A delivery man checks his phone, as another moves past a shuttered news stand on a quiet street on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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A worker in protective overall disinfects the area as residents line up for mass COVID test on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

A worker in protective overall disinfects the area as residents line up for mass COVID test on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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A worker in protective overall disinfects the area as residents line up for mass COVID test on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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A worker takes a temperature of a resident lining up for mass COVID-19 testing on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

A worker takes a temperature of a resident lining up for mass COVID-19 testing on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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A worker takes a temperature of a resident lining up for mass COVID-19 testing on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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Residents wearing masks cross a road on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Residents wearing masks cross a road on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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Residents wearing masks cross a road on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Credit: Ng Han Guan

Credit: Ng Han Guan

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, health workers from Tianjin wear protective suits at the headquarters of a medical emergency team sent to assist Shanghai on May 9, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)

Credit: Anonymous

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, health workers from Tianjin wear protective suits at the headquarters of a medical emergency team sent to assist Shanghai on May 9, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)

Credit: Anonymous

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, health workers from Tianjin wear protective suits at the headquarters of a medical emergency team sent to assist Shanghai on May 9, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)

Credit: Anonymous

Credit: Anonymous

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FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), removes his protective face mask prior to speaking to the media at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 20, 2021. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi

FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), removes his protective face mask prior to speaking to the media at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 20, 2021. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi

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FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), removes his protective face mask prior to speaking to the media at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 20, 2021. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi

Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi

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People wearing face masks ride along a street in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

People wearing face masks ride along a street in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

caption arrowCaption
People wearing face masks ride along a street in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

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People wearing face masks stand in line for COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

People wearing face masks stand in line for COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

caption arrowCaption
People wearing face masks stand in line for COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

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A crossing guard wearing a face mask stands at an intersection in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

A crossing guard wearing a face mask stands at an intersection in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

caption arrowCaption
A crossing guard wearing a face mask stands at an intersection in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

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People wearing face masks stand in line for COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

People wearing face masks stand in line for COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

caption arrowCaption
People wearing face masks stand in line for COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

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A worker wearing a protective suit and carrying a tank of disinfectant walks along a street in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

A worker wearing a protective suit and carrying a tank of disinfectant walks along a street in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

caption arrowCaption
A worker wearing a protective suit and carrying a tank of disinfectant walks along a street in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

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A worker in a protective suit swabs a delivery drivers's throat for a COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

A worker in a protective suit swabs a delivery drivers's throat for a COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

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A worker in a protective suit swabs a delivery drivers's throat for a COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

Credit: Mark Schiefelbein

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A chef and lines up for public COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

A chef and lines up for public COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

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A chef and lines up for public COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

Credit: Andy Wong

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A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at a COVID-19 testing site as a woman leaves after being tested in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at a COVID-19 testing site as a woman leaves after being tested in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

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A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at a COVID-19 testing site as a woman leaves after being tested in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

Credit: Andy Wong

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Residents line up for COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

Residents line up for COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

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Residents line up for COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

Credit: Andy Wong

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A woman wearing a face mask rides across a quiet intersection in the central business district as most nonessential workers in the district have been ordered to work from home in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

A woman wearing a face mask rides across a quiet intersection in the central business district as most nonessential workers in the district have been ordered to work from home in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

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A woman wearing a face mask rides across a quiet intersection in the central business district as most nonessential workers in the district have been ordered to work from home in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

Credit: Andy Wong

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A woman holds her mask as she gets swabbed during public COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

A woman holds her mask as she gets swabbed during public COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

caption arrowCaption
A woman holds her mask as she gets swabbed during public COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

Credit: Andy Wong

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A couple wearing face masks walk by a wall displaying a words "I Love Chaoyang" as they heading to get tested for COVID-19 in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

A couple wearing face masks walk by a wall displaying a words "I Love Chaoyang" as they heading to get tested for COVID-19 in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

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A couple wearing face masks walk by a wall displaying a words "I Love Chaoyang" as they heading to get tested for COVID-19 in the Chaoyang district on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in Beijing. Shanghai reaffirmed China's strict "zero-COVID" approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Credit: Andy Wong

Credit: Andy Wong