China locks down a city for three days on one Covid-19 case; others in partial lockdown

A woman getting tested for Covid-19 in Shanghai on July 6, 2022. The city's initial sluggish response to its outbreak led to a two-month lockdown. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES) - A city in one of China's steel hubs is being shut down for three days after a single Covid-19 infection was found there.

Wugang in Henan province announced a citywide lockdown starting July 11, making it the latest Chinese city to enact strict mobility curbs amid the country's ongoing Covid flare-up.

The city of about 300,000, home to Wuyang Iron & Steel Co, is requiring all residents to stay at home unless they are getting tested for Covid-19, according to a local government statement on Monday (July 11).

While it may be the first time a Chinese city has been locked down based on one case, the country has a track record of reacting swiftly to just one or a handful of infections.

The approach was reinforced after Shanghai's initial sluggish response to its outbreak led to a crisis that required confining its 25 million residents to their homes for two months to contain the conflagration.

The moves are part of China's zero tolerance approach to Covid-19, which is being tested once again with the arrival of sub-variants that have fuelled rising caseloads worldwide.

New Zealand, which was also once a Covid Zero adherent before joining the rest of the world in living with the virus, famously locked down the whole country last August after finding just one community infection.

Despite ever more extreme measures aimed at containing the virus - from testing an infant more than 70 times to locking down Shanghai Disneyland based on one infection - the evolving pathogen is proving harder than ever to wipe out.

Case counts rising

Case counts are rising in several regions, and a jump in infections near Shanghai caused some areas to lock down, despite numbers that are well below the city's spring peak.

Growing clusters in the eastern province of Anhui led to the highest level of transmission in more than a month.

Infections have spilled over into neighbouring Jiangsu province, including the commercial hub of Wuxi city. The city shut entertainment venues, suspended dining-in and reduced operating hours for subway and bus services.

Most of the infections in Anhui were in Si and Lingbi counties, which have been locked down as authorities carry out mass testing.

While close to 30 million people nationwide are under some form of movement restrictions now to quell transmission, authorities have so far steered clear of strict lockdowns in key economic regions.

There were 347 local Covid cases reported nationwide for July 11.

Elswhere outside the mainland, the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Macau have shut non-essential businesses, including its 42 casinos, which are the main drivers of the city's economy, and asked residents to stay home except to buy food.

Economic, social consequences

China's blunt strategy to eliminate the disease wherever it pops up comes with economic and social consequences. It means locking down apartment blocks, neighbourhoods or even whole cities for days or weeks to stamp out even handfuls of cases.

And it has led to a significant slowdown in economic growth, which has been felt globally with the disruption of supply chains.

Macau's 680,000 residents have been relatively sheltered from the virus. It has reported two deaths and fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic in 2020, according to government data.

The government had already closed parts of the city in recent weeks, along with banks, government buildings, parks and swimming pools. All residents had to undergo rounds of mandatory testing.

But until now, Macau had avoided shutting down the casinos, which were last closed in February 2020, for 15 days, because of the economic impact. Shares in the companies that run the casinos tumbled on Monday.

On Sunday, a health official in Shanghai said that the first case of an Omicron sub-variant, BA.5.2.1, has been found in the financial hub. The news triggered more mandatory testing orders for residents of several neighbourhoods in the city, which is still recovering from the psychological scars of strict lockdowns earlier in the year.

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