In a haze of disinfectant, China struggles with invisible enemy

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SHANGHAI: Leaving a fine mist of disinfectant in their wake, China's hazmat-clad health workers are cleaning homes, roads, parcels and even people - but more than two years into the pandemic, experts say it is a futile measure against COVID-19.

China is tied to a zero-COVID strategy, wielding snap lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines as part of unrelenting efforts to quash virus outbreaks no matter the cost to the economy or freedoms of its people.

Among its arsenal of virus controls are disinfectant spraying, which a top Shanghai official earlier this month lauded as a key part of a "grand assault" on the virus.

Footage shows legions of "big whites" - as health workers in hazmat suits are referred to in China - spraying apartments with a virus-killing haze after their inhabitants have been taken into 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 pegged the legitimacy of his leadership on protecting Chinese lives from COVID-19.

Personal possessions and home furnishings lie amid clouds of cleanser, the images show - while in other cases the targets are city streets, walls and parks.

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

"Since infection through touching contaminated surfaces is not an important route of transmission, extensive and aggressive use of disinfectant is not necessary," said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

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

The odds have not deterred China's disinfectant sprayers.

Shanghai alone had sterilised 13,000 areas as of May 2 under a policy targeting infected people's homes, apartment blocks and "preventative" disinfection of entire compounds, vice-mayor Liu Duo said.

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

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