Chengdu locks down 21.2m people as Chinese cities battle Covid-19

Chengdu is the largest city to be locked down since Shanghai was shut for two months earlier this year. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - One of China’s biggest cities, Chengdu, announced a lockdown of its 21.2 million residents as it launched four days of citywide Covid-19 testing, as some of country’s most populous and economically important urban centres battle outbreaks.

All residents in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, were ordered to stay largely at home from 6pm on Thursday, with households allowed to send one person per day to shop for necessities, the city government said in a statement.

Chengdu, which reported 157 domestically transmitted infections Wednesday, is the largest city to be locked down since Shanghai was shut for two months earlier this year. It remained unclear whether the lockdown will be lifted after the mass testing scheme is carried out through to Sunday.

Other major cities, including Shenzhen in the south and Dalian in the north-east, have also stepped up Covid-19 restrictions this week, ranging from work-from-home requirements to the closure of entertainment businesses in some big districts.

No repeat of Shanghai

The moves curtail the activities of tens of millions of people, intensifying the challenges for China to minimise the economic impact of a “dynamic-zero” Covid-19 policy that has kept China’s borders mostly shut to international visitors and make it a outlier as other countries try to live with the coronavirus.

Most of the curbs are intended to last for a few days for now, although two provincial cities in northern China have extended curbs slightly beyond initial promises.

Chengdu’s lockdown sparked panic buying of essentials among residents.

“I am waiting in a very long queue to get in the grocery near my home,” 28-year-old engineer Kya Zhang said, adding that she was worried about access to fresh food if the lockdown is extended.

Hwabao Trust economist Nie Wen said because  Chengdu acted quickly to lock down, it was unlikely to see a repeat of Shanghai’s two-month ordeal.

Non-essential sector employees in Chengdu were asked to work from home, and residents were urged not to leave the city unless needed. Residents who must leave their residential compounds for hospital visits or other special needs must obtain approval from neighbourhood staffers.

Industrial firms engaged in important manufacturing and able to manage on closed campuses were exempted from work-from-home requirements.

Sweden’s Volvo Cars said it would temporarily close its Chengdu plant.

Flights to and from Chengdu were dramatically cut back, according to Flight Master data.  It showed at least 398 flights were cancelled at Shuangliu Airport in Chengdu by mid-morning Thursday.

At Chengdu’s Tianfu Airport, 79 per cent, or 725 flights, were cancelled.

Business disruptions

In Shenzhen, which has the third-highest economic output among Chinese cities, the most populous district Baoan and tech hub Nanshan suspended large events and indoor entertainment for a few days, and ordered stricter checks of digital health credentials for people entering residential compounds.

Nanshan is home to Internet giant Tencent and the world’s biggest drone maker, DJI, among other major Chinese companies.

More than half of Shenzhen’s ten districts, home to over 15 million people, have ordered blanket closure of entertainment venues and halted or reduced restaurant dining for a few days, with curbs in two districts initially planned to be lifted by the end of Thursday.

Shenzhen officials have largely avoided shutting down offices and factories as they did during a week-long lockdown in March.

Data on Thursday showed that Chinese factory activity contracted for the first time in three months in August amid weakening demand, while power shortages and fresh Covid-19 flare-ups disrupted production.

In Shanghai, schools reopened Thursday after being closed for months.

Mainland China has reported no Covid-19 death since May, leaving the death toll at 5,226. REUTERS

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