China imposed some of the world’s toughest lockdowns to stop the coronavirus. One city sealed apartment doors, leaving residents with dwindling food and medicine. One village tied a local man to a tree after he left home to buy cigarettes.
Few officials spoke up against the measures, given the central government’s obsession with its anti-coronavirus campaign. That hasn’t stopped Dr. Zhang Wenhong.
Dr. Zhang, an infectious-disease specialist and perhaps China’s most trusted voice on Covid-19, has spoken out publicly against the strictest lockdowns. Fighting the pandemic, he likes to say, is like “catching mice in a china shop.”
He may be China’s closest analogue to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the American infectious-disease specialist who became the public face of the response to the virus in the United States.
A top academic at Fudan University in Shanghai and a member of the Communist Party, Dr. Zhang led Shanghai’s expert panel on Covid-19, giving him considerable authority over the city’s response.
But unlike Dr. Fauci, who urged the Trump administration to do more, Dr. Zhang championed a more strategic approach for a country that didn’t take coronavirus half-measures. In doing so, he spoke to the Chinese public with respect, a refreshing change from the way others in authority often carry themselves.
Dr. Zhang is especially popular among professionals and technocrats who admire him for his sincerity in a society plagued by propaganda, conspiracy theories and crude nationalism.
“At this moment, rumors are more terrifying than the virus,” he said at the beginning of the outbreak. “We need to explain the epidemic to the public with rational data and professional knowledge.”