SHANGHAI (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - China’s commercial hub of Shanghai faces an unexpected round of mass Covid-19 testing for most residents this weekend – just 10 days after a city-wide lockdown was lifted – unsettling residents and raising concerns about the impact on business.
Several local-level authorities have issued notices saying residents will be subject to two days of confinement and another 12 days of rigorous testing starting on Thursday (June 9).
Many of the notices were in the central Xuhui district, where green fences and red wooden boards have sprung up in the past week, barricading residents in and triggering fresh public anger.
A notice issued in Changning district described the stay-home requirement as "closed management" of the community being sampled.
The reactions of people on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform were a mixture of surprise and concern, with some asking how their plans for the weekend, such as moving house or seeing a doctor, would be affected. Many expressed fear they could be locked down again.
Residents need to prove that they have been tested within the last 72 hours to enter areas such as malls and offices – or even to use subways and buses.
Many people have become frustrated about having to queue for hours to be tested at the thousands of booths scattered around the city.
Some parts of Shanghai had remained under or returned to lockdown shortly after June 1 due to positive cases and their close contacts. Three of the latest infections that led to several closures were traced to Red Rose, a popular beauty salon in the city centre.
The salon had served 502 customers from 15 of Shanghai's 16 districts in the past eight days, a local digital media outlet, The Paper, reported.
The authorities said a preliminary investigation found that some of the salon's 16 employees did not undergo daily Covid-19 testing as required, and that 90,000 people linked to Red Rose staff or customers had been tested.
Shanghai’s earlier two-month lockdown fuelled widespread frustration, anger and even rare protests among its residents, as they grappled with lost incomes, the loss of freedom, the death of friends and relatives, and even hunger.
It also battered the Chinese economy, disrupted supply chains and slowed international trade, and the latest uncertainty has hit sentiment in financial markets.
Meanwhile, Beijing on Thursday reported three new locally transmitted infections, in three districts of Beijing, with one each in Xicheng, Fengtai and Huairou, said Mr Liu Xiaofeng, deputy head of the Beijing municipal disease prevention and control centre, at a press conference on Thursday.
All the cases were patrons of the same bar in the Chaoyang district.
The authorities in Chaoyang ordered entertainment venues and Internet cafes to shut on Thursday, while patrons of four bars were told to identify themselves.
Mainland China reported 151 new coronavirus cases for Thursday, of which 45 were symptomatic and 106 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said on Friday.
The European Chamber of Commerce said offices belonging to its members were only operating at 30-50 per cent capacity while factories were running at above 80 per cent.
Ms Bettina Schoen-Behanzin, Vice-President of the European Chamber said European companies were becoming more cautious and rethinking future investments in China.
“We are still plagued by uncertainty with localised lockdowns. Even if we go on from living in a bubble to living on a bubble, it is still a bubble that may burst at any minute," she said.
While China’s infection rate is low by global standards, President Xi Jinping has doubled down on a zero-Covid-19 policy that the authorities say is needed to protect the elderly and the medical system, even as other countries try to live with the virus.
Mr Xi has called on his government to adhere “unwaveringly” to its Covid-Zero policy, while at the same time striking a balance with the needs of the economy.
He had urged all regions and departments to be resolute in overcoming economic difficulties as they co-ordinate China’s response to the virus and strive to maintain social stability, state broadcaster China Central Television reported on Thursday, citing comments from Mr Xi’s visit to Sichuan province.
The remarks are noteworthy for their emphasis on ensuring stability, amid growing anxiety over China’s strict approach to eradicating Covid-19. China’s economy is widely expected to miss its 5.5 per cent growth target this year because of the virus curbs.
Mr Xi’s call for a stable political and economic environment comes at a crucial juncture for the president, who is seeking to secure an unprecedented third term in power at the Communist Party congress in autumn.