SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Shanghai has set a target to stop the spread of Covid-19 outside of quarantined areas by Wednesday (April 20), two people familiar with the matter said, which would allow China's largest city to further ease lockdown curbs and start returning to normal life.
The target will require officials to accelerate Covid-19 testing and the transfer of positive cases to quarantine centres, according to a speech by a local Communist Party official dated Saturday, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
Shanghai has become the epicentre of China's largest outbreak since the virus was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019, and has recorded more than 320,000 Covid-19 infections since early March when its surge began.
Locked-down Shanghai residents have expressed frustration over difficulties sourcing for food, lost income, separated families and poor conditions at central quarantine centres. Shuttered factories and transport bottlenecks in many parts of China due to Covid-19 curbs are rippling through global supply chains.
Shanghai's new goal of "zero-Covid at the community level" by April 20 was communicated in recent days to the city's Communist Party cadres and organisations such as schools, according to the sources, who declined to be named as the information was not public.
China's definition of zero-Covid-19 status at the community level means that no new cases emerge outside quarantined areas.
A speech dated Saturday by the party secretary of the city's Baoshan district described it as an order that had come as the city's situation reached a "critical moment" with growing public anxiety and food supply pressures.
"The State Council Working Group, the municipal party committee and municipal government have asked that the turning point of the epidemic should appear on the 17th and that zero-Covid-19 status should be reached on the 20th", Mr Chen Jie said in the speech.
The Shanghai government and China's State Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Baoshan district government could not be reached by phone outside working hours on Sunday.
"This is a military order, there is no room for bargaining, we can only grit our teeth and fight for victory. It can also be said this is a total attack, a last-ditch battle to reverse the trend of the epidemic," the speech said.
Ending community-level transmission has been a turning point for other Chinese cities that have implemented lockdowns.
The authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen, which locked down for a week in mid-March, said they had achieved that status after the number of local cases outside quarantined areas dropped to zero. Shenzhen reopened public transport and allowed businesses to resume work shortly afterwards.
Of the 23,643 new local infections Shanghai reported for Saturday, 722 were new cases found outside quarantined areas.
China's "dynamic clearance" approach to Covid-19 control requires the authorities to centrally quarantine all cases and isolate their close contacts.
Beijing authorities intervened in Shanghai in early April after the financal hub's failure to isolate Covid-19 by locking the city down in stages. Chinese President Xi Jinping has insisted that China must not relax coronavirus measures, and must stick to an elimination approach.
Shanghai started locking down areas east of the Huangpu river on March 28, and extended the lockdown citywide on April 1. While it eased movement curbs on some residents last week, most businesses remain shut and public transport is suspended.
On Friday, China's industry regulator said it had identified 666 companies in Shanghai in the semiconductor, automobile and medical sectors as priority firms that needed to resume work.