They spray everything from streets to homes to pets: in China, disinfection departments dump tons of chemicals in hopes of eradicating the coronavirus despite dubious anti-epidemic effects.
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China, where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019, has experienced a boomerang return since the beginning of the year with the Omicron variant that has confined entire cities to it, starting with the most populous, Shanghai.
In the arsenal of the zero-COVID strategy, disinfecting surfaces is part of an “attack in good standing” against the virus, a community official there said in early May.
In videos posted online, we see workers in full suits spraying homes whose residents are being housed in a quarantine center.
Furniture, clothing, food: no personal items escape the disinfection droplets in the accommodation, whose residents had to leave the key for this purpose before departure.
Outside, the disinfection wave hits sidewalks, building walls and even parks.
But according to experts interviewed by AFP, given a virus that spreads mainly through the air when you cough or sneeze, those efforts are pretty much in vain.
“Large-scale disinfection is not necessary because infection through touching contaminated surfaces is not an important transmission route,” observes Yanzhong Huang, public health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Not enough to discourage the “dabai” or “great whites,” the hazmat-suited staff in charge of the task.
Shanghai, which has been under lockdown since early April, has sterilized as many as 13,000 apartment complexes, or 140 million square meters, by May 2, said Deputy Mayor Liu Duo.
The zero-COVID strategy being pursued by the communist regime, despite its cost to the economy and public liberties in Shanghai, is increasingly being challenged by residents who complain they can’t see its end.
Forced disinfection does not help. A resident, who asked for anonymity, told AFP news agency his accommodation had been disinfected twice after returning from quarantine.
Each time, her family had to wait at the door for an hour.
Experts question the sense of these measures.
While the virus can occasionally be transmitted via contaminated surfaces, “it doesn’t survive long outside the human body,” Huang points out.
On the other hand, “disproportionate use of chemicals like chlorine can have negative health and environmental impacts,” he notes.
For infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam of Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, outdoor disinfection has absolutely “no interest”.
“It’s like drawing the legs of a snake,” he says, citing a Chinese proverb.
China prides itself on having limited COVID deaths so far, in contrast to the carnage recorded in Western countries. The communist regime sees this as proof of the superiority of its authoritarian model.
The disinfection of indoor and outdoor surfaces could also have a political motive, speculates Dr. Leong.
“It’s a very visible intervention that pleases senior officials,” even if it does little to reduce the spread of COVID, he believes.
A work that also shows everyone the determination of the communist power to eradicate the virus, Yanzhong Huang points out.
“It conveys the image of a heroic struggle against an invisible enemy”.