Shanghai tweaks lockdown rules amid COVID-19 surge

City will be divided into three tiers depending on recent cases amid rising anger over food shortages and lack of necessities.

Workers in hazmat suits testing samples for COVID-19 in a Chinese lab
Workers in protective suits work inside a makeshift COVID-19 testing laboratory in Shanghai, China [cnsphoto via Reuters]

Shanghai has eased a punishing citywide lockdown that it imposed to break a surge in cases that is the biggest test of China’s two-year strategy to stamp out the disease wherever it appears.

Authorities in Shanghai introduced the three-tier disease control system on Monday, allowing residents in areas where no cases have been reported for 14 days to leave their homes so long as they follow health protocols and remain in their sub-district.

Those living in areas where no cases have been confirmed for seven days are allowed to collect food deliveries or take a walk at a designated time and location.

City health official Wu Qianyu emphasised the need for continued controls at a press briefing.

“After a long period of lockdown, it is understandable that people want to go out and get some air, and they need to go shopping for food and medicine and go for medical treatment,” she said. “But if lots of people gather in a disorderly way, it will cause hidden dangers to our epidemic prevention work.”

Of the city’s 17,600 communities, however, some 7,624 remain in the strictest lockdown designation and people there are required to stay at home.

A young girl in a pink puffer jacket sits on her bed as hazmat suited officials inspect a mass quarantine centre in Shanghai, China.
People found to have COVID-19 under China’s mass testing regime are sent to centralised quarantine facilities [China Daily via Reuters]

Gu Honghui, deputy secretary-general of the Shanghai municipal government, said the zoning would be updated regularly based on the situation in each community.

“Our principle, as always, is to strive to minimise the impact of the epidemic on residents’ daily lives,” Gu told the daily briefing on the city’s epidemic control situation.

The Shanghai outbreak is the most severe since the initial surge in cases in Wuhan that triggered the global pandemic, and is proving to be a considerable test of China’s ‘zero COVID’ strategy, which relies on mass testing, quarantine and draconian lockdowns to stamp out the virus.

Anger over restrictions

But the Shanghai lockdown, which was initially supposed to be just a few days long, has fuelled anger among residents who have complained about food shortages and a lack of basic necessities.

On Tuesday, the United States said it had ordered all non-essential consulate staff to leave the city, citing the COVID response. The US earlier advised its consulate staff to leave and also urged Americans to reconsider travel to China due to “arbitrary enforcement” of local laws and COVID-19 restrictions, particularly in Hong Kong, Jilin province and Shanghai in an announcement that drew anger from Beijing.

China was “strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to the US side’s groundless accusation against China’s epidemic response,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Sunday.

Guangzhou, a sprawling metropolis of 18 million people on China’s southern coast, is also battling an outbreak of the disease and is conducting a mass testing campaign.

Residents have been advised not to travel unless absolutely necessary and the city has been closed to arrivals from outside.

Guangzhou’s health commission said it had found 27 new confirmed local cases and 11 asymptomatic cases as of Monday evening. A total of 61 infections have been reported in the current outbreak since Friday.

China is still mainly closed to international travel, even as most of the world has sought ways to live with the virus.

Mainland China reported a total of 24,659 confirmed cases on April 11, most of them people without symptoms, the national health authority said on Tuesday. More than 23,000 cases were in Shanghai.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies