Shanghai will lock down eight city districts this weekend to mass test millions of people as Covid-19 cases continue to emerge, causing more disruption and triggering a renewed run on groceries in areas that just exited a grueling two-month shutdown.
The restrictions will apply to roughly 15.3 million residents of Pudong, Huangpu, Jing’an, Xuhui, Hongkou, Baoshan, Yangpu and Minhang districts of Shanghai during the testing, a key tool in China’s Covid Zero arsenal. Renewed scrutiny in the areas that account for more than 60% of Shanghai’s population comes after the number of infections found in the community rebounded to six on Thursday, from zero the day before.
There were 5 other infections found among people already in quarantine on Thursday, for a total of 11 cases in the financial hub. Nationwide, China added 73 infections.
One of the major clusters is centered on the Red Rose Salon in the Xuhui district, where services were in high demand after it reopened following the lockdown that began at the end of March. Three infections were tied to the beauty salon during the Thursday briefing, including two in employees who live in Minhang, the district that has posted the highest number of recent cases.
Some staff in the state-owned salon didn’t conduct daily Covid tests, officials said.
Of the six community cases, four were found in Minhang, a district of 2.65 million in the south west of Shanghai. Minhang — a mostly residential area — will be sealed on Saturday morning for mass testing, according to a statement, while the other districts didn’t specify how long their lockdowns would last.
The return to lockdown for some in Shanghai underscores the difficulties of China’s attempts to eliminate the virus while the rest of the world accepts it as endemic. The disruption wrought by pandemic curbs have impacted production at companies like Sony Group Corp. and Tesla Inc., with the electric-car maker only now normalizing operations at its factory in southern Shanghai.
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News of the mass testing and renewed restrictions sparked a run on some grocery stores, after many residents struggled to get fresh fruits and vegetables in the early days of the original lockdown. While the latest curbs may lift in as little as a few hours if no new infections are found, two more weeks of isolation may be imposed for areas where new chains of transmission are uncovered.
Most economists say it will be tough for China to meet its annual growth target this year because of lockdowns. By having zero tolerance for new cases, the country risks being in a constant loop of imposing and easing restrictions.
Still, President Xi Jinping continues to emphasize the country’s adherence to a policy that has delivered one of the lowest Covid death rates in the world. Xi called for Covid Zero to be adhered to “unwaveringly” in a visit to Sichuan province Thursday, according to the state broadcaster, while stating that it should be achieved in balance with the needs of the economy.
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The remarks echoed sentiments from mid-March, when Xi first urged Chinese officials to reduce the financial impact of Covid-fighting measures. Shanghai authorities worked to allow manufacturers to establish so-called closed-loop systems in their plants that enabled them to continue operating. The setups create a bubble in which workers only go to and from the factory, sometimes living on site, and are tested regularly to detect Covid incursions.
The threat of disruptive measures also returned to Beijing on Thursday, with mass testing resumed in several neighborhoods of the capital’s key Chaoyang district, home to company headquarters and embassies. A flareup of Covid in a bar ended a five-day streak of zero community spread. Beijing reported eight new local Covid cases for Thursday.
There are signs China is trying to use ubiquitous and accessible testing as a way to avoid costly lockdowns. Special testing kiosks are being set up on street corners in major cities so that residents are never more than 15 minutes away from a PCR testing opportunity. The idea is that constant testing — a negative test is required to enter shopping malls and even parks in some places — will find early chains of transmission before they get out of control.
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Infections are also spreading in China’s north, with outbreaks in Inner Mongolia and in Dandong, a city on the border with North Korea, which recently acknowledged what it claimed was its first Covid outbreak.