Monkeypox in China: Don’t touch foreigners, says top health official after first case appears


A top Chinese health official has warned people against touching foreigners, a day after mainland China confirmed its first case of the monkey.

Wu Zunyou, a senior epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Saturday that the country’s Covid-19 restrictions and strict border controls had so far prevented the spread of the monkey until a case “arrived”. through the network.”

That case was detected in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing. The “international arrival” was under mandatory Covid-19 quarantine when the infection was discovered, according to local authorities, although they did not say whether the person was foreign or Chinese.

Cases of the monkeypox virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and blister-like lesions, began emerging around the world in May. The US has reported 23,500 cases this year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is necessary and important to strengthen monitoring and prevention of the monkey,” Wu wrote in his post, emphasizing the risk of spreading the disease through international travel and close contact. He gave five recommendations to the public, the first: “Don’t have skin-to-skin contact with foreigners.”

The recommendation sparked a debate on Weibo, with some praising his advice as reasonable and others expressing relief that they didn’t know many foreigners. “It’s good to open the country’s door, but we can’t let everyone in,” wrote one Weibo user.

But others saw Wu’s message as discriminatory and harmful, drawing parallels with the wave of xenophobia and violence Asians faced abroad at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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

Others pointed out that there were many foreign workers and long-time residents in China who would not have left the country recently, and therefore would be less likely to be infected than Chinese citizens.

“When the pandemic started, some of our foreign friends stood up and used our platforms to tell everyone, ‘The Chinese are not the virus,'” another person wrote on Weibo.

“Then, when the outbreak at home came under control and our foreign friends began to face discrimination, many Chinese people with their own platforms became completely silent.”

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The controversy over Wu’s message and other warnings shared by Chinese state media highlight the Covid fatigue shared by many in mainland China, where nearly three years of strict restrictions have disrupted daily life and the economy is in turmoil.

Mainland China has some of the strictest remaining Covid rules in the world, including border restrictions, mandatory quarantines, social distancing requirements and residents trapped in office buildings or shopping malls unsuspectingly at signs of an infection.

At the peak of the country’s outbreak this spring, major cities went into lockdown with little advance warning and often mixed information from authorities.

Shanghai, for example, went into lockdown days after officials insisted there were no plans to do so, leaving many residents unable to get food, medical care or other basic supplies.

Chinese experts say it is unlikely that the monkey will cause chaos, and state media Global Times reported on Friday that the disease “poses a low threat”, citing a hospital director.

However, they also called for vigilance, as some experts highlighted the need for “strict vigilance” and countermeasures, according to the Global Times.

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

In his Weibo post on Saturday, Wu urged people to avoid close contact with strangers or people who have recently arrived from abroad; to maintain good hygiene; and disinfecting disposable toilet paper or toilet seats with alcohol wipes before use.

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

“We’re willing to buy car insurance in case of accidents, but we’re not going to give up driving,” one person wrote. “We will wear face masks to avoid catching Covid, but we will not refuse to go out.”

Another user, responding to Wu’s instructions, was more honest: “After how to handle the Covid-19 pandemic, can you still trust him?”