Shanghai tests 26 million residents in one day under extended lockdown

It is China's largest public health response since it tackled the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING -  Shanghai said it would continue with a lockdown as it reviews results of a massive exercise on Monday (April 4) to test all 26 million of its residents, in China’s largest public health response since the initial days of the pandemic. 

This is the first time that the city has ordered all residents to be tested since the current outbreak started in early March.

Those who refuse to be tested without justification will face administrative or criminal punishment, Shanghai police said on Saturday.

“With the cooperation of the city’s residents, (Shanghai) has on April 4 successfully completed a new round of testing and will follow procedure to continue testing, review, personnel transfer, analysis and other related work”, the city’s Covid-19 task force said in a statement.

“After the above is completed, the follow-up measures will be done in accordance with relevant national regulations... Before that, the entire city will continue to be locked down, other than those who are ill and need to see a doctor, stay-home orders will be strictly enforced.”

There is mounting frustration among residents as medical facilities are overwhelmed, with videos on social media showing crowded mass quarantine centres and locals fighting with community workers, while others have also complained about the inability to access medical facilities such as dialysis centres.

The financial hub has been battling a massive outbreak for close to five weeks, with officials initially unwilling to order a mass lockdown, instead opting to shut the city in halves. But the decision was reversed over the weekend after mass testing revealed consistently high case numbers.

Shanghai on Monday reported 9,006 new infections, of which 8,581 were asymptomatic.

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More than 2,000 medical personnel from the People’s Liberation Army and some 38,000 healthcare workers from across China have been dispatched to Shanghai, state media reported.

This is the country's largest public health response since the initial days of the pandemic, when medical reinforcement was sent into Hubei province.

The current outbreak is pushing the limits of China’s “dynamic zero” Covid-19 strategy, which involves targeted lockdowns, aggressive testing and contact tracing, while sending those who test positive but present mild symptoms to mass quarantine centres.

But images have emerged of crowded and unsanitary conditions at the exhibition halls-turned-makeshift hospitals, with no shower facilities, little privacy and lights kept on all night.

Some are beginning to question the policies, including one that says children will be separated from their parents if they test positive for Covid-19.

Shanghai official Wu Qianyu told reporters that children can be accompanied by their parents if the latter are also infected, but separated if they were not, adding that the policies were still being refined.

Over the weekend, a petition circulated among WeChat groups asking that those with mild or asymptomatic infections be allowed to recover at home.

But residents say the indefinite extension of lockdown measures is starting to grate on nerves, and that it has been increasingly hard ordering things such as fresh vegetables.

One lawyer told The Straits Times that he and his family had greens on their table only because he had the contact of a wholesaler.

“I never thought that in this day and age, I would have to buy vegetables at 11.30pm through the metal gates of my estate,” said Mr Xia, who asked to be identified only by his surname. “It’s been more than two years since the pandemic started, why are we back to square one?"

Photos and videos have gone viral on Chinese social media of exhausted workers and volunteers sleeping on plastic chairs or on the grass outside housing compounds, or being berated by residents.

The Pudong Chinese Centre for Disease Control said it was investigating a leaked recording of a call between a staff member and the relative of a patient.

The staff member, who was identified as infectious disease expert Zhu Weiping, could be heard saying exasperatedly that she herself had raised concerns over the current quarantine and testing rules and that the virus had become a “political” one.

The Straits Times could not independently verify the recording, but social media platform Weibo started a hashtag “protect Zhu Weiping” amid concerns that she could face punishment for speaking out against the official line.

By Monday evening, the hashtag had attracted 2.9 million views.

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