The 60-year-old Chinese epidemiologist who played a significant role in leading the battle against COVID has passed away.

Wu Zunyou, a 60-year-old epidemiologist who played a key role in implementing China’s strict zero-COVID policies, passed away on Friday. These measures included lockdowns and travel restrictions that affected millions of people and aimed to contain the spread of the virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wu’s death, stating that rescue attempts were unsuccessful. No specific cause was given.

Wu’s physical well-being had been lacking. He withdrew from the public’s attention for several months last year as he fought against cancer.

Reword: Wu earned both his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. He dedicated a significant portion of his early career to HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in China.

According to his biography on the UCLA website, Wu played a key role in creating China’s main strategy for addressing the HIV crisis among intravenous drug users. In honor of his contributions, he received the 2005 International Rolleston Award and the 2008 UNAIDS Gold Medal for his overall efforts.

However, during China’s fight against the COVID-19 virus, Wu received criticism from some for publicly showing support for the country’s strict measures to control the virus, despite the increasing flaws in the strategy.

In April 2022, at the peak of Shanghai’s lockdown, he stated that the dynamic zero-COVID approach is suitable for China’s circumstances and is the most effective option for managing the current COVID situation.

The approach provided China with additional time at the onset of the pandemic. However, by 2022, as the virus became increasingly transmissible, it demonstrated signs of being overwhelmed.

Shanghai, a bustling metropolis, was caught off guard by a lockdown. As a result, its citizens rushed to obtain essential items such as groceries, while facing difficulties in obtaining urgent medical assistance due to strict regulations on leaving homes and entering hospitals. Additionally, there was frustration over the implementation of mass field hospitals for those who tested positive for the virus, mandated by public health officials.

Privately, Wu had differing opinions on the extreme measures of the zero-COVID approach, but felt incapable of opposing it.

In late 2022, as the concept of achieving zero-COVID became unfeasible, he composed an internal document advising the government to refrain from extreme actions. However, during public press conferences in recent years, he consistently expressed the official stance.

During the battle against the virus, Wu’s physical appearance showed signs of aging. In 2020, he was seen with predominantly black hair, but by 2022, his hair had turned completely gray.

The announcement of Wu’s passing occurred shortly after the announcement of former Premier Li Keqiang’s death. Li had been the second highest-ranking leader in the country during the pandemic.


Dake Kang, an AP journalist, provided input for this report from Shenzhen, China.