Shanghai boosts Covid-19 testing amid uptick in cases outside quarantine

The city will add more PCR testing booths, increase staff at busy sites and extend service times to meet residents' needs. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHANGHAI (BLOOMBERG) - China's financial capital Shanghai is bolstering its Covid-19 testing capacity as cases reappear in the community and residents start to move around more freely after the easing of most lockdown curbs.

Shanghai on Friday (June 3) reported 16 new Covid-19 infections for Thursday, seven of them outside government quarantine - the highest tally of so-called community cases since officials started to loosen restrictions after declaring an end to community spread.

The city will add more PCR testing booths, increase staff at busy sites and extend service times to meet residents' needs, Xia Kejia, an official in charge of Shanghai's Covid-19 testing work, said at a briefing on Thursday.

Residents still need a recent negative test result to access public transport, enter shopping malls or go to the office.

The head of Shanghai's municipal health commission, Wu Jinglei, said the city is "now in the stage of resuming normal life and production, but risks still exist that cases may rebound".

Authorities will "stick to the policy of dynamic zero" and strictly execute the prevention rules, he said.

New infections rose to 74 across China on Thursday, from 61 on Wednesday. Still, it's a marked turnaround from the tens of thousands of cases reported daily in the first half of April, when Shanghai's outbreak appeared to be spiralling out of control, triggering a city-wide lockdown that disrupted business and upended people's lives.

The dramatic drop in nationwide infections from a peak of almost 30,000 in mid-April will be seen as justification President Xi Jinping is charting the right course. China's leader has made zero tolerance for Covid-19 a cornerstone of his rule as he seeks an unprecedented third term at the Party congress due later this year.

China has trumpeted what it sees as its triumph over the pathogen, with its approach leading to one of the lowest death tolls in the world, especially compared to the US with its more than 1 million fatalities.

But keeping the virus out - especially in the face of more contagious and immune-evasive variants - is exacting a hefty price, with the country shut off from the rest of the world and most economists predicting the nation will fail to meet its economic growth target this year.

Factories have been shuttered for months in some cases, and supply chains snarled as China deploys a playbook of movement restrictions, mass testing and mandatory isolation of all Covid-19 cases and their close contacts.

To help mitigate the economic and social upheaval of sticking with Covid Zero, the National Health Commission on Wednesday told local authorities not to "arbitrarily" extend quarantine periods or impose Covid-19 curbs in low-risk areas.

To keep the virus at bay, a network of tens of thousands of testing booths is being set up across China's largest and most economically vital cities, with the goal of having residents always just a 15 minute walk away from a swabbing point.

The infrastructure will allow cities like Beijing, Shanghai and tech hub Shenzhen to require tests as often as every 48 hours, with negative results needed to get on the subway, go to a tourist attraction, or even enter a store.

The health commission also asked local governments to step up oversight of testing labs and ensure staff are properly trained after some violations were found.

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