China Kovid: China fights invisible enemy in disinfectant smoke

Leaving behind a fine mist of disinfectants, Chinese hedgehog-clad health workers are cleaning homes, roads, parcels and even people – but more than two years into the epidemic, experts say it is a futile measure against Kovid-19.

China is pursuing a zero-cue strategy, conducting snap lockdowns, mass tests and long quarantines as part of its relentless efforts to curb the spread of the virus, regardless of the cost to the economy or the freedom of its people.

The arsenal of virus controls includes spraying disinfectants, which a top official in Shanghai praised earlier this month as part of a “massive attack” on the virus.

The footage shows soldiers of the “big whites” – as mentioned in the health workers in the Hazmat suit in China – spraying the apartment with virus-killing mist after their residents were taken to the state quarantine.

The scene has become one of the most visible manifestations of China’s zero-covid policy, which has taken on a political dimension as President Xi Jinping demonstrates the legitimacy of his leadership in saving Chinese lives from covid.

Private property and home furnishings lie in the clearing clouds, the images show – in other cases the targets are city streets, walls and parks.

However, such labor-intensive campaigns are relatively meaningless against a virus that spreads through airborne droplets during coughing and sneezing, experts told AFP.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said, “Since contagious surface contact is not an important route of transmission, there is no need for extensive and aggressive use of disinfectants.”

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

Adversity did not deter China’s disinfectant sprayer.

As of May 2, Shanghai alone has disinfected 13,000 areas under a policy aimed at “preventive” disinfection of infected people’s homes, apartment blocks and entire compounds, said Vice-Mayor Liu Duo.

The city has been plunged into a lockdown of displaced mosaics for weeks that have seen 25 million residents quarrel with police and flood of anger and frustration on social media.

In a social media video verified by AFP, a hazmat-fitting health worker sprays a powerful hose on a resident’s bed, desk and clothes with a cloud of disinfectant.

In other clips, workers roam the streets and housing compounds, crashing walls, scooters – even on the ground while residents line up for tests.

A Shanghai resident told AFP that his house had been disinfected twice since they returned from segregation, and his family had been instructed to wait an hour outside each time.

Experts have struggled to see the need for measurement to maintain public health.

Although the virus can transmit through the surface, “it cannot survive long outside the human body, so it is unnecessary to disinfect the outer surface,” said Huang of the Foreign Relations Council.

“Extensive use of certain chemical disinfectants, such as chlorine disinfectants, can have a detrimental effect on human health (and) the environment.”

Leung Hoye Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore, says outdoor disinfection is “absolutely meaningless.”

“The Chinese word is ‘to step on a snake’ – unnecessary,” he told AFP.

Ben Kauling, a professor at Hong Kong’s School of Public Health University, said China’s refusal to move on zero-covid could lead to proactive use of disinfection.

Given the disruptive effects of the sudden lockdown, “one could see an argument for using every possible means to reduce transmission,” he told AFP.

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

Leong said the disinfection drive often did little to prevent the spread of “many visible interventions that make administrators happy”.

But Beijing’s willingness to show its commitment to a flagship policy was perhaps the more important aspect, Huang said.

The move “awakens the image of a heroic war against an invisible enemy,” he said.

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