China began its biggest lockdown in two years on Monday to carry out mass testing and control a growing outbreak in its biggest city of Shanghai as questions are raised about the economic toll of the country’s “zero-COVID” strategy. .
China’s financial capital with 26 million people, Shanghai had managed its smaller past outbreaks with limited closures of homes and workplaces where the virus was spreading. But the citywide lockdown that will unfold in two phases will be the most extensive in China since the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, locked down its 11 million people. inhabitants at home for 76 days at the start of 2020.
Shanghai’s Pudong financial district and nearby areas will be locked down from Monday to Friday as mass testing begins, the local government said. In the second phase of the lockdown, the sprawling downtown west of the Huangpu River that divides the city will begin its own five-day lockdown on Friday.
Residents will be required to stay at home and deliveries will be left at checkpoints to ensure there is no contact with the outside world. Offices and all businesses not deemed essential will be closed and public transport suspended.
Already, many communities in Shanghai have been locked down in the past week, with their housing compounds blocked by blue and yellow plastic barriers and residents required to submit to multiple tests for COVID-19. Shanghai’s Disneyland theme park is among the businesses that closed earlier. Automaker Tesla is also suspending production at its Shanghai plant, according to media reports.
Panic buying was reported on Sunday as supermarket shelves were cleared of food, drink and household items. Additional barriers were erected in neighborhoods on Monday, with workers in hazmat suits for checkpoints.
Shanghai detected another 3,500 cases of infection on Sunday, although all but 50 were people who tested positive for the coronavirus but did not show symptoms of COVID-19. While asymptomatic people can still infect others, China classifies these cases separately from “confirmed cases” – those in sick people – leading to much lower totals in daily reports.
Power surge in Jilin Province
Nationwide, 1,219 new confirmed cases of the domestic infection were detected on Sunday, including more than 1,000 in the northeast Jilin province, as well as 4,996 asymptomatic cases, according to the National Health Commission. health reported Monday.
China has reported more than 56,000 confirmed cases nationwide this month, with the outbreak in Jilin accounting for most of them.
Jilin province is enforcing travel bans and partial shutdowns in several cities, including Changchun, one of the centers of China’s auto industry. Although the province has seen more than 1,000 new confirmed cases per day, the prevention and control measures there do not appear to have been as extreme as in other places.
China has called its longstanding “zero tolerance” approach the most cost-effective and effective prevention strategy against COVID-19.
The new measures applied in Shanghai aim to “curb the spread of the virus, protect people’s life and health, and achieve the dynamic goal of zero COVID as soon as possible”, the COVID-19 prevention and control office said. of the city in a press release on Sunday evening. .
This requires mass lockdowns and testing, with close contacts often quarantined at home or in a central government facility. The strategy aims to eradicate community transmission of the virus as quickly as possible.
While officials, including Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, have encouraged more targeted measures, local officials tend to take a more extreme approach, fearful of being fired or otherwise punished for accusations of failing to prevent epidemics.
Vaccination rates lower in the elderly
With China’s economic growth already slowing, the extreme measures are seen as worsening challenges to employment, consumption and even global supply chains.
Shanghai’s announcement of the dates for lifting the two lockdowns appears to show an additional refinement in China’s approach. Previous citywide lockdowns had been unlimited.
Although the vaccination rate in China is around 87%, it is considerably lower among the elderly.
National data released earlier this month showed that more than 52 million people aged 60 and over have yet to be vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine. Booster rates are also low, with only 56.4% of people aged 60-69 having received a booster injection and 48.4% of people aged 70-79 having received one.
Older, unvaccinated people are more likely to become seriously ill if they contract the virus.