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Tens of millions go into lockdown in China as Communist Party leaders continue zero-Covid

It was ten million people under lockdown in China on Wednesday, as businesses in a major tourist city were forced to close their doors and new clusters sparked fears of a return to blanket restrictions.

Health authorities today reported over 300 infections, with clusters found in the historic city of Xi’an in the north – home of the Terracotta Army – as well as the country’s largest city, Shanghai, and the capital Beijing.

In Shanghai and Beijing, authorities have ordered a new round of mass testing, while in Xi’an, residents have been placed back under “temporary control measures.”

The new cases and the official response to them have deepened fears China potentially returning to the strict lockdowns seen earlier this year when tens of millions of people were locked down for weeks.

The Communist Party’s uncompromising zero-Covid policy has not only left thousands now suffering from mental health problems, it has also prolonged global supply chain problems.

In Shanghai, some residents took to social media on Tuesday to say they had received government food rations, a throwback to the month-long confinement in the spring.

A medical worker takes a swab sample at a nucleic acid testing station after the outbreak of a coronavirus disease in Beijing on Wednesday

“Let me tell you a scary story, Putuo district is shipping vegetables again,” read a resident’s viral WeChat post.

“I’m so nervous, the epidemic has ruined my youth. I’m about to go crazy,” posted another Shanghai Weibo user.

Officials launched a new round of mass testing in over half of Shanghai’s districts after cases have recovered since the weekend, and closed all karaoke bars on Wednesday after some infections were linked to six such venues.

Shanghai has just emerged from a strict lockdown that had confined most of its 24 million residents to their homes for weeks, and the new requirements have raised concerns about a return of such harsh measures.

Blocks of flats where cases are discovered will continue to be isolated while mass testing has been ordered in most of the city’s 16 boroughs at least through Thursday.

A negative test result obtained within the last 48 hours is required to enter residential areas and public venues under the “two tests within three days” program.

Shanghai’s lockdown sparked unusual protests both in person and online against the government’s tough enforcement, which has seen many residents struggle to access food and medical services and sent thousands to quarantine centers.

Health workers wait to test people for the Covid-19 coronavirus on a street next to a residential area in Shanghai's Jing'an district on Tuesday

Health workers wait to test people for the Covid-19 coronavirus on a street next to a residential area in Shanghai’s Jing’an district on Tuesday

People line up for a COVID-19 test in Beijing, China on Wednesday

People line up for a COVID-19 test in Beijing, China on Wednesday

And Xi’an – a historic city of 13 million that suffered a month-long lockdown late last year – was placed back under “temporary control measures” after 29 infections were detected since Saturday, mostly among waste recycling workers.

Public entertainment venues such as pubs, internet cafes and karaoke bars would close their doors from midnight on Wednesday, the city government said in a statement.

State media showed images of Xi’an residents queuing for tests after midnight on Tuesday, while stressing that the city was not under lockdown.

Officials have blamed the city’s outbreak on the BA.5.2 subline of the Omicron variant, which is more transmissible and immune-preventable.

“The positive infections are all the BA.5.2 branch of the Omicron variant, and the epidemiological tracing work is still ongoing,” Xi’an health official Ma Chaofeng said at a briefing.

Beijing residents have also been ordered to undergo further rounds of COVID-19 testing after new cases were detected in the city, while tight restrictions remain in place in Hong Kong, Macau and other Chinese cities.

Beijing recently experienced an outbreak linked to a nightlife spot. It has been conducting regular tests for weeks, and at least one residential area in the Shunyi suburb, home to many foreign residents, has been cordoned off with a steel fence over the entrance to prevent residents from leaving.

Enforcement in China’s capital has been far more lenient than in Shanghai, although officials continue to require regular testing and preventive measures.

Macau’s gambling hub, meanwhile, has locked down the famous Grand Lisboa Hotel after cases were discovered there.

More than a dozen residential and business centers in China’s special autonomy region, which has a population of about 650,000, have been designated as “red zones”, access to which is reserved almost exclusively for rescue workers.

A woman undergoes a COVID-19 test Wednesday following an outbreak in Beijing, China

A woman undergoes a COVID-19 test Wednesday following an outbreak in Beijing, China

Authorities have ordered the closure of most establishments, with the exception of casinos, which are Macao’s main source of income and one of the city’s largest employers.

City residents will have to undergo three citywide Covid-19 tests this week. The local outbreak is the largest in Macau since the pandemic began, with more than 900 reported infections since mid-June.

The strict measures have remained in place despite relatively low case numbers and the severe negative impact on China’s economy and global supply chains.

The World Health Organization recently labeled the policy unsustainable, a view Chinese officials flatly dismissed, though they said they hoped to minimize the impact.

The new outbreaks pose a renewed challenge to President Xi Jinping, who last week reiterated his commitment to zero Covid despite the rising economic cost.

Japan’s bank Nomura has estimated that at least 114.8 million people are on full or partial lockdown across the country as of Monday, a sharp increase from last week’s 66.7 million.

China’s zero-Covid approach has also created staff shortages that have resulted in the closure of countless factories. These disruptions are sweeping global supply chains for goods ranging from electric vehicles to iPhones.

Medical workers register people at a nucleic acid testing station following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Beijing on Wednesday

Medical workers register people at a nucleic acid testing station following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Beijing on Wednesday

While some factory owners are trying to get through it through “closed-loop” management that isolates workers inside, some said it always will, given the extent of local COVID-19 restrictions aimed at fighting off the Omicron variant harder to sustain, complicating efforts to procure materials or ship products.

In April, more than 30 Taiwanese companies, many of which make electronic parts, said the COVID-19 measures in east China had forced them to temporarily halt production.

China’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19, despite low case numbers and even as the rest of the world tries to live with the coronavirus, is proving unwieldy given the extreme contagiousness of the less deadly Omicron variant.

The zeal to break virus transmission chains means localized curbs stretch far beyond virus hotspots of Shanghai and Jilin province in the northeast.

An April 7 study by Gavekal Dragonomics found that 87 of China’s top 100 cities by GDP have imposed some form of quarantine restrictions.

In May, electric vehicle maker Nio said it had to halt production at its Hefei factory – despite there being no curbs at the local level – because suppliers from other areas had halted work.

Trucking was particularly hard hit, causing long queues and delays, and driving up prices.

The city of Xuzhou, a logistics hub, in April required truck drivers to present negative PCR test results within 48 hours for further testing upon arrival. They can’t leave their trucks.

Some drivers have gotten stuck on freeways after visiting areas like Shanghai, meaning their smartphone health codes have automatically expired.

A health worker (R) takes a swab sample from a woman to test for the coronavirus Covid-19 on a street next to a residential area in Shanghai's Jing'an district on Tuesday

A health worker (R) takes a swab sample from a woman to test for the coronavirus Covid-19 on a street next to a residential area in Shanghai’s Jing’an district on Tuesday

Foreign business groups have been particularly vocal about their concerns, with the European Chamber of Commerce in China noting in a letter to the government in April that about half of German companies in the country are experiencing supply chain issues. Continue reading

China has tried to cushion the effects of the curbs by keeping ports and airports running and encouraging closed-loop manufacturing.

But the number of container ships waiting off Shanghai — the world’s busiest container port — and nearby Zhoushan has more than doubled to 118 since early April, nearly triple the number a year ago, data from Refinitiv shows.

In April, Iris Pang, an economist, warned that China’s COVID crisis could affect growth rates around the world.

“A problem in China could be a problem for the global economy,” she said.

More than 1,000 infections have been reported in central Anhui province since last week, with dozens of them spreading to neighboring Shanghai’s Jiangsu province, threatening the Yangtze River Delta’s core manufacturing region.

Tens of millions go into lockdown in China as Communist Party leaders continue zero-Covid

Source link Tens of millions go into lockdown in China as Communist Party leaders continue zero-Covid

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