Shanghai to lock down half city in turns for mass Covid test

Shanghai to lock down half city in turns for mass Covid test

Staff in personal protective equipment (PPE) work by a barrier of an area under lockdown amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, in Shanghai, China on Saturday. (Reuters photo)
Staff in personal protective equipment (PPE) work by a barrier of an area under lockdown amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, in Shanghai, China on Saturday. (Reuters photo)

Shanghai will lock down each half of the mega city in turns to conduct a mass testing blitz as authorities scramble to staunch a spiralling virus outbreak in the financial hub and beyond.

The city of 25 million people will first lock down areas east of the Huangpu River, which includes its financial district and industrial parks, for four days starting Monday. Then the lockdown will start in the city’s west for another four days, according to a Sunday statement from local government.

Residents will be barred from leaving home and public transport and car-hailing services will be suspended, while private cars will not be allowed on the roads unless necessary, the statement said. It also stressed that citizens’ emergency medical needs must be guaranteed.

The sweeping restrictions come as China experiences its worst Covid spread since Wuhan, with 5,550 local Covid-19 cases reported for Saturday. Authorities locked down the tech hub of Shenzhen in the south earlier this month, while more than 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) to the north, Jilin, which borders Russia, saw its capital city shut on March 11 and days later the entire province sealed off.

Infections in Shanghai, home to the Chinese headquarters of many international companies and the country’s largest port, have surged in recent days despite repeated and expanded testing across the metropolis. The financial hub reported 2,676 new infections Saturday, a jump of 18% from a day earlier, overtaking Jilin as the nation’s biggest Covid hot spot.

The lockdowns in Shenzhen and now Shanghai, two of China’s most economically significant cities, show the growing toll -- and challenge -- of maintaining a zero-tolerance approach to the virus amid more transmissible variants. While most countries have started to live alongside Covid, China’s strategy of closed borders, mandatory quarantines and mass testing is becoming more difficult by the day. 

For Shanghai, the latest restrictions mark a departure from the city’s previous approach, which was more targeted when it came to curbs and testing. Officials had resisted full-blown lockdowns to avoid disruption to businesses, only to see the highly infectious omicron variant spreading more widely in the community.

As Covid cases started to rise this month, Shanghai reacted by shutting all schools and suspending all cross-province bus services. An increasing number of residential towers have been sealed sporadically over the past few days due to suspected cases.

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