US tells non-essential government workers to leave Shanghai due to Covid-19

The US State Department's orders come after the surge in cases and the impact of restrictions related to China's response. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHANGHAI (AFP, REUTERS) - The United States announced on Tuesday (April 12) it had ordered all non-essential employees at its Shanghai consulate to leave, while voicing concerns for the safety of Americans in China as the government enforces hard lockdowns to contain Covid-19.

China has stuck to a policy of “zero Covid”, aiming to eliminate infections through rigid lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

But the policy has come under strain since March as more than 100,000 cases in Shanghai have led to a lockdown of the city’s 25 million inhabitants, sparking widespread public outcry over food shortages and an inflexible policy of sending anyone who tests positive to quarantine centres.

The US State Department ordered the departure “due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak”, a spokesman for its Beijing embassy said in a statement.

American diplomats have also raised “concerns about the safety and welfare of US citizens with People’s Republic of China officials”, the statement added.

“It is best for our employees and their families to be reduced in number and our operations to be scaled down as we deal with the changing circumstances on the ground,” it read.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing on Tuesday in Beijing that the United States should “stop political manipulation under the pretext of the epidemic, and stop smearing China”.

He said channels of communication between the countries were unimpeded and China was providing “assistance and convenience” to foreign diplomatic staff in accordance with international conventions.

“China is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to the US politicising and instrumentalising the evacuation,” Zhao said. “The US side should immediately stop attacking China’s epidemic prevention policies and making political manoeuvring under the pretext of the epidemic".

On Saturday, the United States had warned of "arbitrary" Covid-19 measures in China and said it would let some staff leave its Shanghai consulate amid a surge of infections in the locked-down megacity.

Shanghai reported 22,348 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases and 994 symptomatic cases for April 11, the local government said on Tuesday. Asymptomatic cases were down from 25,173 a day earlier. Symptomatic cases rose from 914.

The city's authorities said they would start lifting lockdowns in some areas from Monday despite the surge in case numbers, as they strive to get the city moving again after more than two weeks.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.