The chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called for a “recalibration” of China’s strict “zero-COVID” policy on Tuesday following rare protests in the country against the rules that put pressure on Chinese officials to ease them.
Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the IMF, told The Associated Press in an interview that China needs to change its policy because of the impact it is having on people and the economy.
China has pursued a strategy of trying to reduce the number of cases active in the country to as close to zero as possible, ordering as many as millions of civilians to go into lockdown to prevent the virus’ spread.
But tens of thousands of cases are still happening in China, and the number of new infections hit record levels in recent days.
Most of the Chinese population has never been exposed to the virus because of the policy, so they have not built up an immunity. Lower vaccination rates among elderly individuals are also allowing the virus to spread more easily and cause more deaths as more contagious variants develop.
Protests have broken out in China against the country’s COVID-19 policies, in part fueled by a deadly fire at an apartment in the northwestern city of Urumqi last week. Chinese protesters have argued that the country’s lockdowns slowed firefighters’ response to the fire and cost lives.
Some protesters called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.
China has announced small changes to its policies related to the virus, only requiring buildings or neighborhoods to be isolated instead of entire cities. But it has not shown indications of any broad overhauls of its “zero COVID” policy.
“We see the importance of moving away from massive lockdowns, being very targeted in restrictions,” Georgieva said. “So that targeting allows to contain the spread of COVID without significant economic costs.”
She said China should focus on vaccinating the most “vulnerable” people.