January 27, 2023

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“Don’t have skin-to-skin contact with strangers.” A Chinese official’s call stirs controversy

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote on the Twitter-like Chinese platform Weibo on Saturday that the country’s Covid-19 restrictions and strict border controls have so far prevented the spread of monkeypox, until when a case “slipped through the net”.

That case was traced to the southwestern municipality of Chongqing.

“An international arrival” was in mandatory quarantine with Covid-19 when the infection was discovered, according to local authorities, who did not say whether the person was a foreign or Chinese citizen.

Cases of monkeypox, which causes flu-like symptoms and blister-like lesions, began appearing around the world in May.

The United States has reported 23,500 cases so far this year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is necessary and important to strengthen monitoring and prevention of monkeypox,” Wu wrote in his post, highlighting the risk of spreading the disease through international travel and close contact.

He gave five recommendations for the public, the first being “Don’t have skin-to-skin contact with foreigners”.

The recommendation sparked controversy on Weibo, with some praising the advice as reasonable and others expressing relief that they don’t know many foreigners.

“It’s good to open the country’s door, but we can’t let everything in,” wrote one Weibo user. But others criticized Wu’s post as discriminatory and harmful, with several drawing parallels to the wave of xenophobia and violence faced by Asians abroad at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a bit like when the pandemic started, when some foreigners avoided the Chinese out of fear. I don’t think these two things have any scientific basis, they are too broad and will exacerbate public panic,” wrote one Weibo user.

Others pointed out that there are many foreign workers and long-term residents in China who have not left the country recently and therefore would be no more likely to be infected than Chinese citizens.

“When the pandemic started, some of our foreign friends stood up and used our own platforms to tell everyone: ‘The Chinese are not the virus.’ After that, when the domestic epidemic was brought under control and our foreign friends began to face discrimination, many Chinese people with their own platforms became completely silent,” another person wrote on Weibo.

The debate over Wu’s post and other warnings shared by Chinese state media highlights the Covid fatigue shared by many in mainland China, where nearly three years of strict restrictions have disrupted daily life and plunged the economy into crisis. .

Mainland China has some of the strictest Covid rules in the world, including border restrictions, mandatory quarantines, social distancing requirements and snap lockdowns, which have left residents unexpectedly stranded in office buildings or shopping malls, at any indication of infection inside.

At the height of the epidemic this spring, major cities were shut down without warning and with often confusing information from the authorities.

Shanghai, for example, was shut down just days after officials insisted there were no plans for such a measure, leaving many of its residents unable to access food, medical care or other basic supplies.

Chinese experts say monkeypox is unlikely to cause such havoc, with the state-run Global Times reporting Friday that the disease “poses little threat,” citing a hospital director.

However, they also urged continued vigilance, with some experts stressing the need for “strict surveillance” and countermeasures, according to the Global Times.

Monkeypox is spread through close contact, according to the US CDC. This includes direct physical contact with lesions or rashes from monkeypox patients, touching objects that patients have used, “respiratory secretions” shared through face-to-face interaction or sexual contact.

In his Weibo post on Saturday, Wu urged people not to have close contact with foreigners or people recently arrived from overseas; to maintain good hygiene; use disposable toilet paper and disinfect toilet seats with alcohol wipes before use.

But some on Weibo responded to these recommendations with frustration and anger, pointing to the many sacrifices they have already made during the pandemic, perhaps a sign of the public’s already strained relationship with the authorities.

“We are willing to buy car insurance in case of accidents, but we will not refuse to drive,” one person wrote.

“We will wear masks to prevent infection with Covid, but we will not refuse to go out.”

Another user, who responded to Wu’s guidance, was more direct: “The way the Covid-19 pandemic was handled, can you still trust him?”

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