New Covid-19 flare-ups in China raise risk of more curbs

The flareups come as Shanghai starts to emerge from a weeks-long lockdown. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (BLOOMBERG) - Fresh outbreaks around key Chinese cities and the ongoing Covid-19 spread in Beijing are raising the spectre of more pandemic curbs, even as Shanghai slowly emerges from its six-week lockdown.

The capital reported 69 new Covid-19 cases for Tuesday (May 17), up from 52 on Monday.

The Fengtai district has locked down some areas for seven days after new clusters flared, with authorities racing to isolate people exposed at a fresh produce market to try and prevent community spread. Three rounds of mass testing across four districts, including Fengtai, will start on Thursday.

Tianjin, close to the capital and where an outbreak in January disrupted global automakers Toyota Motor and Volkswagen, saw cases rise to 55 on Tuesday from 28 on Monday. The port city in China’s north has closed 36 subway stations, and commuters heading to Beijing are required to get a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours of travel.

A cluster is also ballooning in Sichuan province, which reported 201 cases for Tuesday, raising concerns about potential spread to Chongqing, an important manufacturing hub and home to about 32 million residents. Nationwide, the case count rose for the first time in five days.

The flare-ups come as Shanghai, the epicentre of China's worst outbreak since the early days of the pandemic, starts to emerge from a weeks-long lockdown.

While cases in the financial hub rose slightly to 855 on Tuesday from 823 on Monday, no infections were found outside of government quarantine for a fourth day.

A day earlier, the city hit the crucial milestone of three consecutive days of zero cases in the community, the metric authorities had said would allow them to unwind the strict curbs that hampered economic activity and curtailed almost every aspect of daily life for residents.

However, many restrictions remain in place in the city. Residents must produce a pass to exit their compounds and can leave only by bike or on foot. The passes are distributed to each apartment by residential committees, allowing one person per family to leave during appointed hours for grocery errands.

According to passes seen by Bloomberg News, many compounds will allow residents to leave twice in the next four days, for a maximum of four hours at a time.

About 790,000 people in quarantined areas of Shanghai are still under restrictions that ban them from leaving their apartments due to Covid-19 cases, Zhao Dandan, deputy head of the city’s health commission, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

There are also few signs of any widespread re-opening for businesses. Many firms in Shanghai are still enforcing the closed-loop systems, where staff work and live on-site and undergo regular testing, that allowed them to operate during the lockdown.

The largest chipmakers in Shanghai, including Semiconductor Manufacturing International, still have thousands of workers in Covid-free bubbles for production. Non-essential staff are advised not to go back until further notice, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the work practices are confidential.

SMIC’s plant in Zhangjiang has about 5,000 workers in closed loop operations, said one of the people.

Unisoc, the country’s largest mobile chip manufacturer, didn’t comment on closed-loop policy, but said in a text statement that the company is working in accordance of local authority’s rules to resume production.

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