SHANGHAI (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Shanghai vowed to step up enforcement of lockdown measures to stamp out community spread in the country’s worst virus outbreak, as the city reported 11 Covid-19 deaths on Thursday (April 21) – its highest one-day toll so far.
Earlier on Friday, the city said it would lift its lockdown in batches once virus transmission outside quarantined areas was stamped out.
The municipal government said it would adopt nine actions from Friday to achieve the goal of “no community spread”, a milestone that’s eluded the city despite weeks of lockdown.
The pledge largely reiterated existing lockdown measures in place, with a vow to strictly implement rules like making sure people don’t leave their homes in restricted areas.
In recent days, lockdown fatigue has seen a loosening of enforcement, with people slipping outside for fresh air, exercise and to walk their pets.
“At present, the epidemic situation is still very serious, and the prevention and control work is at a critical moment,” the government said in a statement.
The reinvigorated lockdown comes as Covid-19 fatalities begin to mount in the financial hub. Thursday’s record count brought the overall death toll to 36.
While still far lower than what other countries are recording, it’s the most virus-related loss of life China has seen in over two years.
The number of severely and critically ill patients also grew to 184 on Thursday, following a tripling the day before, reflecting the vulnerability of an elderly population that’s only about 62 per cent vaccinated.
With an average age of 84.2, the people who died Thursday all had severe underlying conditions such as heart and liver disease, said the city, and only one was vaccinated.
Despite declines for five consecutive days this week, the number of new daily cases continues to hover close to the 20,000 level, at 17,629 on Thursday. More pressing for city officials is that nearly 3 per cent of new cases are still being found in the community, with the rest detected already in quarantine – at government-designated facilities or locked-down buildings in housing compounds.
China requires zero community spread before it considers an outbreak contained.
With residents frustrated by weeks of lockdown, implementation of movement restrictions had loosened in recent weeks. In some housing compounds where people are meant to be strictly confined to their homes, residents have been seen walking their dogs or taking strolls at night. Children have also been seen roller-skating in some neighborhoods.
The renewed pledge indicate that these small freedoms will now be taken away, deepening the misery for a population that’s been mired in a logistical nightmare, with uneven access to food supply and medical treatment.
Residents in some districts have also complained about moldy food or issues with the packaging of food that had been distributed by the government to compounds still in lockdown.
The simmering anger has led to some of the strongest anti-government criticism in years, though top officials continue to defend their Covid Zero approach, a strategy only China and Hong Kong practise in a world that’s adjusted to living with the virus.
The crisis in what was previously China’s most open and sophisticated city is leading to a departure of some expatriates and global businesses. China also maintains strict travel curbs nationwide as part of its efforts to keep out the virus.
British companies are delaying investment decisions in China, said John Edwards, Britain's trade commissioner to China, in a Bloomberg TV interview on Friday.
“The longer that this goes on, the frustrations are continuing to grow,” he said. “There has been some easing of internal logistics. There has been some resumption, as you just said, of operations on the ground. But again, the uncertainty about how long this will continue, and in what form, continues to impact business confidence.”
- people living in restricted areas – defined as places where there were virus cases over the past 7 days – must be strictly confined to their homes
- people living in controlled areas – defined as places where there are no virus cases for 7 consecutive days – must be confined to their compounds
- people living in prevention areas – defined as places where there are no Covid-19 cases for 14 days – can go out of their compounds but must not enter restricted or controlled areas
- More mass nucleic acid and rapid antigen tests will be conducted: Daily nucleic acid tests will be conducted for people living in restricted areas
- For those in controlled areas, rapid antigen tests will be used for three days followed by two days of nucleic acid tests
- For those in prevention areas, rapid antigen tests will be used for four days, followed by one day of nucleic acid test