Half of Shanghai shut for Covid-19 testing under two-stage lockdown

Police officers controlling access to a tunnel in the direction of Pudong district in Shanghai on March 28, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - A snap two-stage lockdown was rolled out from Monday (March 28) in Shanghai, a city of 26 million residents, for Covid-19 testing as infections hit a record high.

The city had previously tried to manage the pandemic through a targeted approach of rolling 48-hour lockdowns and mass testing across various districts. 

The latest lockdown, announced late on Sunday, will see the city split into two sections.

Areas east and south of the Huangpu River, including Pudong, home to Disneyland, will be tested from Monday to April 1. Areas in the north and west of the river, which includes Puxi, home to the historic Bund, will be tested from April 1 to 5. 

All residents will have to be tested twice, with at least 24 hours between both tests. 

Those in areas with less severe outbreaks will be allowed to use antigen rapid test kits, which were allowed for public use beginning this month.

Most of the 3,500 cases in Shanghai on Monday were asymptomatic but with the country still in pursuit of a “dynamic zero” approach, this has resulted in the lockdown, as frustration mounts in the city.

Unlike at the start of the pandemic when much of the world was in various stages of lockdown, many in China are starting to chafe at the government’s heavy-handed policies, which have had little effect in preventing an Omicron wave.

Another round of mass testing is deemed necessary in Shanghai because results from the first round have shown that the current outbreak has a tendency to quickly spread through localised districts, which could lead to a citywide outbreak, said Dr Wu Fan, a member of the city’s Covid-19 response team and vice-dean of Fudan University’s medical school. 

“The key to decisive victory (over the virus) is that the people of the city work together and move in unison,” she told a press briefing yesterday morning, adding that no stone will be left unturned and there will be “strict control”. 

But some in China have said perhaps it is time for the authorities to change their approach.

“Since most of us have no symptoms, maybe it’s time to consider living with the virus, it’s really not that scary,” said a post on the Twitter-like Weibo that garnered thousands of likes before it was taken down. 

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Only 50 of the cases reported on Monday in Shanghai displayed symptoms. 

China on Monday reported 6,409 new cases, of which 5,134 were asymptomatic.

Most of them were traced to Jilin province in the north, which has been battling a flare-up for weeks but the local authorities insist that “the end is in sight”. 

The authorities in Shanghai also stress that despite the lockdown, the city’s two airports, railway stations and its logistics network are still functioning. 

Shanghai’s customs authority released a statement to say that its officers are continuing to work through the lockdown to ensure the flow of goods can continue. 

While most have been ordered to stay home, those deemed as essential workers such as delivery riders and staff in logistics and food supply are allowed to work, ensuring that those under lockdown can have a fresh supply of food. 

Local media has also highlighted some of the workers’ stories, portraying them as heroes.

“I’ve been living on my bike for five days.  I haven’t washed my hair in five days,” the unnamed woman who is a delivery rider told Shanghai media outlet The Paper in a video interview. 

With her head covered by a helmet, the rider was picking up an order from a local pharmacy. “There are some people who need their medicine and so I have to keep working so they can have it,” she said. 

The municipal government has also been keen to emphasise that there is sufficient supply of daily necessities, a bid to prevent public outcry like during a lockdown in Xi’an last year, when the city ran low on food. 

Some in Shanghai have also been made to return to their offices for the duration of the lockdown so that trade can continue. Some, like the Shanghai Stock Exchange, had asked employees to return shortly after the announcement on Sunday so they could wait out the period at work. 

Pictures on social media showed clothes and folding beds beside office desks. 

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