BEIJING — China on Monday began its deepest lockdown in two years to conduct mass testing and control a growing outbreak in Shanghai, amid questions about the economic toll of the country’s “zero-COVID” strategy.
Shanghai, China’s financial capital and largest city with a population of 26 million, had managed its minor outbreaks in the past with limited lockdowns on housing developments and workplaces where the virus was spreading.
But the citywide lockdown, implemented in two phases, will be China’s most extensive since the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, first locked 11 million people in their homes for 76 days in early 2020. Millions more have since been kept in lockdown.
Shanghai’s Pudong financial district and nearby areas will go into lockdown Monday through Friday as mass testing begins, the local government said. In the second phase of the lockdown, the vast inner-city area west of the Huangpu River, which divides the city, will begin its own five-day lockdown on Friday.
Residents are required to stay at home and deliveries are deposited at checkpoints to ensure no contact with the outside world. Offices and all shops not considered essential will be closed and public transport stopped.
Many communities in Shanghai have been in lockdown for the past week, with their gated communities cordoned off with blue and yellow plastic barriers, and residents undergoing multiple tests for COVID-19. Disneyland theme park in Shanghai is among the businesses that closed earlier. According to media reports, the car manufacturer Tesla is also suspending production at its plant in Shanghai.
Panic buying was reported on Sunday, with food, drink and household items being cleared from supermarket shelves. Additional barriers were erected in neighborhoods on Monday, with workers in hazmat suits manning checkpoints.
In person observations of the April 5 Tomb Sweeping Festival have been canceled and commemorations will be held online instead.
Some workers, including traders at the city’s stock exchange, were preparing to remain in a COVID-19 “bubble” for the duration of the lockdown.
Li Jiamin, 31, who works in the financial industry, said she packed several days’ worth of clothes and supplies, and her company was arranging sleeping and eating facilities.
“The overall impact is still large,” Li told The Associated Press, noting in particular the losses suffered by informal sector workers who lack such support.
Huang Qi, 35, who works at a local university, said he had previously undergone lockdown at home and was preparing for the new round by stocking up.
“I think if the shutdown goes on like this our school staff won’t be badly affected, but what about those who work in the real economy? How can their business be sustained?” said Huang.
“I still hope that our society can find a better balance between ensuring normal life and epidemic prevention and control,” Huang added.
Shanghai on Sunday detected another 3,500 cases of infection, although all but 50 were people who tested positive for the coronavirus but showed no symptoms of COVID-19. While asymptomatic people can still infect others, China categorizes such cases separately from “confirmed cases” – those in the sick – resulting in much lower totals in daily reports.
Nationwide, 1,219 new confirmed cases of domestic infection were identified as of Sunday, more than 1,000 of them in the northeastern province of Jilin, along with 4,996 asymptomatic cases, the National Health Commission reported Monday.
China has reported more than 56,000 confirmed cases nationwide this month, with most of them attributed to the surge in Jilin.
Jilin province is enforcing travel bans and partial lockdowns in several cities, including Changchun, one of the centers of China’s auto industry. Although the province has recorded more than 1,000 new confirmed cases per day, the prevention and control measures taken there do not appear to have been as extreme as in other places.
As has become common, Jilin has built prefab temporary wards to house COVID-19 patients and those being monitored as suspected cases. The city of Suzhou, about an hour from Shanghai, as well as Changsha in the center of the country and Shenyang in the north-east are also constructing such buildings, which can accommodate more than 6,000 people.
Shanghai itself has remodeled two gymnasiums, an exhibition hall and other facilities to accommodate potentially infected patients.
China has called its longstanding “zero tolerance” approach the most economical and effective prevention strategy against COVID-19.
The new measures, which will be enforced in Shanghai, aim to “curb the spread of the virus, protect people’s life and health, and achieve the dynamic zero-COVID target as soon as possible,” the COVID- 19 City Prevention and Control Bureau in an announcement Sunday night.
That requires lockdowns and mass testing, with close contacts often quarantined at home or at a central government facility. The strategy focuses on eradicating community transmission of the virus as quickly as possible.
While officials, including Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, have encouraged more targeted measures, local officials are inclined to take a more extreme approach amid fears of being fired or otherwise punished over allegations of failing to prevent outbreaks.
Most recently, Hunan Province, which has had relatively few cases, ordered fines on 19 officials for “failing to vigorously consolidate anti-pandemic policies,” state broadcaster CCTV reported Monday.
With China’s economic growth already slowing, the extreme measures are seen as deepening difficulties hitting jobs, consumption and even global supply chains. With a 21-day curfew on all foreigners arriving from abroad, travel between China and other countries has dropped dramatically.
On Friday, the International Air Transport Association announced it would move its annual general meeting from Shanghai to Doha, citing “ongoing COVID-19-related restrictions on travel to China.”
“It is deeply disappointing that we cannot meet in Shanghai as planned,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh in a press release.
Still, Shanghai’s announcement of dates for the lifting of the two lockdowns appeared to show further refinement of the Chinese approach. Previous citywide lockdowns were indefinite.
Although vaccination coverage in China is around 87%, it is significantly lower among older people, who are more likely to become seriously ill if they contract the virus.
In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government was still considering next steps in what has been criticized as hesitant response to a recent fifth wave of COVID-19 infections that has resulted in tens of thousands of cases and more than 7,000 deaths.
Lam said no decision had yet been made on whether or when all 7.4 million residents of south China’s semi-autonomous region would be tested.
“I don’t have a schedule yet. It’s not easy to set a schedule in advance, just as I don’t know how quickly cases will come in,” Lam told reporters at a daily briefing.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/28/shanghai-starts-chinas-biggest-covid-19-lockdown-in-2-years/ Shanghai initiates China’s biggest COVID-19 lockdown in 2 years