Shenzhen under citywide Covid-19 lockdown, Shanghai restricts travel

People receive nucleic acid tests for the Covid-19 coronavirus in Shenzhen in June 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China's tech hub of Shenzhen came under a citywide lockdown on Sunday (March 13) while Shanghai ordered residents to avoid all but essential travel and closed schools, as the Covid-19 outbreak continued to spread in many parts of China.

The country's new daily cases almost doubled to 3,400 on Saturday as netizens went on social media to question whether its tough stance on Covid-19 should be loosened, given that the Omicron variant is less fatal than earlier variants.

Shenzhen residents must undergo daily Covid-19 tests and their movements in or out of housing buildings have been restricted after the city reported 66 cases of infection on Saturday.

The authorities in Shanghai advised residents not to leave the financial hub unless necessary and tourist attractions started requiring visitors to provide negative test results.

A total of 3,393 cases were reported on Saturday, according to the National Health Commission on Sunday. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 115,466.

Saturday's new daily figure was almost double that of Friday's tally of 1,524.

Though China's infection numbers are low compared with other countries, it has gone to great lengths to keep Covid-19 at bay under its dynamic-zero policy, by introducing flash lockdowns, tough border restrictions and mass testing.

The north-eastern province of Jilin has been the hardest hit in the latest outbreak, with 1,412 local cases on Saturday. Parts of Jilin city, the province's second-largest, are under lockdown, with hundreds of neighbourhoods sealed up.

Jilin city is building three makeshift hospitals with 10,000 beds in total, on top of the existing three makeshift hospitals with about 1,200 beds. The city is also building 6,000 quarantine pods for close contacts of Covid-19 patients.

On Friday, Jilin's provincial capital Changchun ordered residents to stay home, allowing one person out every two days to buy daily necessities.

Earlier, Jilin Agricultural Science and Technology University students complained that they were left to fend for themselves after infections were detected.

They said on microblogging platform Weibo that they were locked up in libraries and dormitories, and they could not go to the toilet and lacked daily necessities.

They were later taken to quarantine facilities after the case made headlines. The secretary of the Communist Party of China committee at the university was sacked for negligence.

Netizens have taken to Weibo to voice their dismay at the country's record high figures.

A hashtag related to Jilin's high number of infections on Saturday was top on Weibo's hot search, drawing 1.71 billion views and sparking 222,000 discussions. A hashtag on China's overall figures had 190 million views and 12,000 discussions.

"It's been two years since the pandemic first started, and things seem to be getting worse, even after we have taken the vaccines. The latest Omicron waves happened so suddenly too," read one post.

Another post asked whether local officials could stop focusing on Omicron's highly contagious nature, which spreads fear and panic, and instead talk about how the variant is less serious than the flu, and asked if the strict measures are necessary.

A resident undergoes a nucleic acid test for the Covid-19 coronavirus in Jilin in China's north-eastern Jilin province on March 9, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan on Saturday urged local governments to clear the cases in the shortest time possible.

She noted that epidemic outbreaks in China are becoming more frequent and the pressure for prevention and control has increased, adding that efforts to fight the latest Omicron variant must target its highly infectious nature.

The National Health Commission approved on Friday five antigen self-test kits made by local companies to boost the country's early detection capability.

It was getting more challenging to keep to China's previous strategy of having medical workers swab residents' noses and throats within days after a handful of cases emerged in cities, and to use nucleic acid tests that require labs to process samples, according to local media reports.

The kits will be available in stores and online.

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