More than 12m in Shanghai can leave homes as Covid-19 risk ebbs

People queue by a police cordon for Covid-19 testing in Shanghai on April 27, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
A resident feeds stray cats in Shanghai, on April 28, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
People in quarantine exercise in front of their homes in Shanghai, on April 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHANGHAI (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - As many as 12.38 million Shanghai residents, nearly half the population of China’s financial hub, are now in lower-risk areas, meaning they can leave their homes, the government said on Friday (April 29).

The city classifies each housing unit according to three levels of risk, designating those that have not seen a Covid-19 positive case for 14 days as "prevention zones", allowing residents to go out for "appropriate" activities.

By Thursday, the number of people living in high-risk "sealed and controlled zones", subject to the strictest lockdown measures, was 5.27 million, down by 6.6 million since the last readjustment on April 20.

"The number of people in the sealed and controlled zones has clearly fallen," Mr Zhao Dandan, deputy director of Shanghai’s health commission, told a media briefing.

Another 5.93 million medium-risk residents are now allowed, in principle, to leave their apartments but are still confined to their compounds.

The financial hub on Friday reported 9,970 infections and 52 deaths for Thursday, slightly up from 9,764 cases on Wednesday.

In addition, it also reclassified 5,062 previously counted asymptomatic patients as symptomatic, the highest such number in the past week.

While the number of daily infections in Shanghai has been fluctuating, community spread has been dropping in the past week.

After removing cases found in the quarantine system and previous asymptomatic infections reclassified as symptomatic, the number of infections found in the community dropped to 108 on Thursday from 250 a week ago, according to data from the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission.

Beijing reported 49 cases for Thursday, down slightly from 50 on Wednesday, suggesting a mass-testing drive in the capital is yet to find signs of a wider outbreak.

Cities across the country are rolling out swift measures from mass-testing drives to lockdowns for just a mere handful of Covid-19 cases, aiming to keep flareups at bay and avoid the economic and social hardship endured in Shanghai, where most of the city's 25 million residents have been confined to their homes for a month or more.

Hangzhou, an e-commerce hub a short train ride from Shanghai, started a mass testing drive earlier this week. Schools in Beijing will start their Labour Day holiday early, and don't have a firm return date.

And the port city of Qinhuangdao, along with Yiwu - known for its production of Christmas decorations - have gone into full or partial lockdowns.

A staff member stands at an entrance to a closed in Beijing, on April 28, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

China’s dogged pursuit of Covid Zero, as the rest of the world lives with the virus and dismantles restrictions, has seen it slide in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking of where the pandemic is being handled best with the least economic and social disruption. 

In an interview with news site The Market, Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, blasted the government’s handling of the latest outbreak. 

“The authorities do not inform that the Omicron variant is milder, they do not inform that other countries have learned to live with the virus,” Wuttke said. “The political leadership can’t admit, so close to the Party Congress, that there is another way in dealing with Covid.”

“They are prisoners of their own narrative. It’s rather tragic: China was the first to get into the pandemic, and it’s the last to get out,” he said. “And in the meantime, they’ve been telling the whole world that they’re the best.”

The high proportion of asymptomatic cases in Shanghai is at odds with infections reported elsewhere in China. PHOTO: REUTERS

China’s growth outlook is deteriorating sharply. Lockdowns in Shanghai and other parts of the country are adding to pain. In our new base case, with the government sticking with its Covid Zero strategy, growth for the year comes in at 3.6 per cent. That’s down from our forecast of 5.1 per cent in late March and substantially below the 5.5 per cent target for the year.  

Unlike elsewhere in the world where people are confirmed as a Covid-19 case as long as they test positive for the virus, China only counts people who test positive and develop symptoms as a confirmed case, and classifies those without any outward symptoms as asymptomatic cases.

When asymptomatic people start to develop symptoms, they are then moved into the confirmed case category. For much of 2020 and 2021, asymptomatic infections were only a fraction of China’s total cases. That changed in the latest outbreak that started around March, when asymptomatic infections began to far outnumber confirmed cases in Jilin and Shanghai, which account for more than 90 per cent of all infections China reported in this period.

The high proportion of asymptomatic cases in Shanghai is at odds with infections reported elsewhere in China.

Beijing, for example, has seen most infections in the recent outbreak leading to symptomatic Covid-19 cases. That has fuelled speculation there could be some discrepancies in the way Shanghai defines asymptomatic infections compared to the rest of the country.

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