In a haze of disinfectant, China battles an invisible enemy – Manila Bulletin

SHANGHAI, China — Leaving a fine mist of disinfectant in their wake, Chinese health workers dressed in hazardous materials are cleaning homes, roads, packages and even people — but more than two years into the pandemic, the experts say it is a futile measure against Covid-19.

AFP BULLETIN/ MANILA

China is tied to a zero-Covid strategy, using instant lockdowns, mass testing and long quarantines as part of relentless efforts to quell virus outbreaks, regardless of the cost to the economy or freedoms. of his people.

Among its virus control arsenal is disinfectant spraying, which a senior Shanghai official earlier this month hailed as a key part of a “big push” against the virus.

Footage shows legions of ‘tall whites’ – as health workers in hazmat suits are called in China – spraying apartments with a virus-killing mist after their residents were placed in state quarantine.

The sight has become one of the most visual expressions of China’s zero Covid policy, which has taken on a political dimension as President Xi Jinping has established the legitimacy of his leadership on protecting Chinese lives from Covid.

Personal possessions and household furniture sit amid clouds of cleaner, the images show – while in other cases the targets are city streets, walls and parks.

But such labor-intensive campaigns are relatively useless against a virus that spreads through droplets expelled in coughs and sneezes into the air, experts told AFP.

“Since infection through contact with contaminated surfaces is not an important route of transmission, intensive and aggressive use of disinfectant is not necessary,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations. based in New York.

Transmission through contaminated surfaces and objects is possible but relatively rare.

The odds did not deter the Chinese disinfectant sprayers.

Shanghai alone had sterilized 13,000 areas as of May 2 under a policy targeting homes of infected people, apartment buildings and “preventive” disinfection of entire compounds, Vice Mayor Liu Duo said.

The city has seethed for weeks under a shifting patchwork of lockdowns that have seen some of its 25 million residents brawl with police and spark a flood of fury and frustration on social media.

– Beds, clothes, scooters –
In a social media video verified by AFP, a health worker in a hazmat suit wielding a powerful hose sprays clouds of disinfectant on a resident’s bed, desk and clothes.

Other clips show workers wandering the streets and housing complexes, casually spraying walls, scooters – and even the floor as residents line up for tests.

A Shanghai resident told AFP his home was sterilized twice after they returned from quarantine, with his family ordered to wait outside for an hour each time.

Experts struggled to see the need for the measure for maintaining public health.

Although the virus can be transmitted through surfaces, “it cannot survive for long outside the human body, so there is no need to sterilize exterior surfaces,” said Huang from the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The widespread use of certain chemical disinfectants, such as chlorine sanitizer, could have adverse effects on human health (and) the environment.”

Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease expert at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore, said outdoor disinfection was “absolutely unnecessary”.

“The Chinese expression is ‘to draw the feet on a snake’ – superfluous,” he told AFP.

– Spraying policy –
China’s refusal to waver on zero-Covid could lead to overzealous use of sterilizers, said Ben Cowling, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.

Given the disruptive impact of sudden shutdowns, “one could see justification for using all possible approaches to reduce transmission,” he told AFP.

These can include strategies that “could have close to zero effect but could in rare circumstances prevent infection”, he added.

Leong said the sanitization campaign was mostly “a lot of visible interventions that please administrators” without doing much to prevent the spread of Covid.

But Beijing’s desire to demonstrate its commitment to a flagship policy was perhaps the most important aspect, Huang said.

The decision “conjures up the image of a heroic battle against an invisible enemy,” he said.

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