© Reuters. A medical worker in a protective suit collects swab samples from residents for nucleic acid testing outside a closed entrance to a building during the lockdown in Shanghai, China, May 12, 2022, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic .Reuters/Ali
By Brenda Goh and Martin Quin Pollard
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Shanghai authorities on Thursday launched an investigation into the city’s last COVID-19 cases, hoping to clear the way out of a painful six-week lockdown, while Beijing restricted taxi services to control its outbreak. Small.
The Chinese business hub of 25 million people has been tightening its lockdown in recent days to finally wipe out the virus by the end of the month, making some major strides, data this week showed.
Mass testing in Shanghai detected just two new cases on May 11 outside the area facing the strictest restrictions, officials said on Thursday, but that was no more than two more than the day before.
Notably, the cases were detected in two of the city’s 16 districts (Xuhui and Fengxian), which authorities said this week were among the eight to achieve “zero-COVID” status. One, there are no community cases for three consecutive days.
The latest case shows the difficulty of completing the highly transmissible variant of Omicron despite some of the harshest restrictions China has imposed since the virus emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The new infections have also raised concerns about how long a return to normal life under China’s uncompromising “zero-coronavirus” policy may take after the lockdown is finally lifted.
Yu Linwei, deputy governor of Xuhui District, told a news conference that the district will not relax its anti-epidemic work, ensure everyone is tested and isolate new cases and their close contacts as soon as possible.
“We dare not slack off,” he said.
Some residents in the area, who have been allowed to leave their yards for walks and grocery shopping in recent days, said they had been notified that they could not leave their homes and were preparing for more testing.
Overall, Shanghai reported 1,305 new local asymptomatic coronavirus cases on May 11, up from 1,259 a day earlier and 144 symptomatic cases down from 228. But these areas are already under the strictest control.
Cases found in relatively liberal communities were the most closely watched for clues about where the Shanghai outbreak was headed. After a period of zero cases in those regions, other Chinese cities under similar lockdowns have begun to ease restrictions.
The number of cases in China is a fraction of the world’s major cities as most countries lift “coexist with the virus” restrictions, even as infections continue to spread.
China has bucked the trend and doubled down on its “zero epidemic” policy, with restrictions on hundreds of millions of people in dozens of cities, causing significant economic losses and disruptions to international trade and supply chains.
But China says it is saving lives.
It noted 1 million deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. and many more elsewhere, with its official death toll just over 5,000 since the pandemic began.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said this week that China’s policies were “unsustainable”, prompting angry condemnation from Beijing and censorship of his “irresponsible” remarks.
The capital Beijing reported 46 new COVID cases on May 11, up from 37.
On Wednesday evening, Beijing announced the suspension of taxis and ride-hailing services in parts of Chaoyang District, the city’s biggest epicenter of the outbreak, and two other districts.
Authorities there have banned dine-in services at restaurants, closed some malls, entertainment and tourist venues, suspended parts of the bus and subway system, and imposed lockdowns on some residential buildings.
After tightening restrictions early in the outbreak, Beijing fared much better than Shanghai during the latest outbreak.
“A dystopian nightmare”
In an apartment building in central Shanghai’s Jing’an district, residents were again told they could not leave their apartments after being allowed to walk around the complex last week.
Stephanie Sam, a 27-year-old building resident, said on the WeChat social media site: “Despite the restrictions, those 10 minutes of freedom, being able to get some fresh air outside my building and walk the dog, gave me stay awake.”
Re-tightening the curbs “eliminates my last hope that this dystopian nightmare will end soon,” she said.
The district has reported zero community cases and, like the rest of the city, has entered what authorities call a “silent management mode.”
This often means planks or fences around buildings, no deliveries, and residents are again confined to their homes.