Just six weeks after Shanghai fully lifted a long and harshly enforced lockdown, China’s largest city is once again dealing with a surge in coronavirus cases. Residents who fear being suddenly confined to their homes have been alarmed by mixed messages from official sources circulating on social media, including advice to stock up on food and medicine.
Since the beginning of this month, Shanghai has recorded more than 400 infections across the city, many of which have been traced to a group at a karaoke bar. City authorities have imposed lockdowns on residential buildings where cases and close contacts have been identified, while a dozen of the city’s 16 wards have ordered residents to take two PCR tests within three days this week.
Residents expressed concern that the surge could trigger another city shutdown like the two-month lockdown in May and June that shuttered businesses and schools and brought life to a standstill. Public anxiety grew amid reports, even in health timesa Communist Party newspaper, that two residential committees in Shanghai had sent “friendly reminders” to residents to stock up on 14 days of food and medicine, in case apartment buildings were suddenly locked down.
The city government moved to assure the public that there was no plan to impose a citywide lockdown. But some residents remained skeptical.
“The government has lost the trust of the public,” said Norah Liu, a tech industry worker in Shanghai. “Whatever you do, I have enough basic food for a month of survival at home anyway.”
City officials said at a news conference Monday that more than 300,000 people have been tested or placed in centralized isolation facilities. China’s strict approach to stamping out coronavirus infections relies heavily on quarantines and isolation: Anyone who tests positive or is considered a close contact is likely to be confined to a facility or home.
To deal with the growing number of people considered to be at risk of spreading the virus, Shanghai has reopened at least one isolation facility for Covid patients that had been used during the spring outbreak, according to caixinan influential news magazine.
The city’s measures are already drawing criticism for being excessive. Some residents complained that health workers classified them as “secondary close contacts” simply because they had been in the same mobile messaging chat group as people who tested positive.
The local health agency admitted that in trying to carry out contact tracing at the cluster of karaoke bars, workers cast a wide net to try to stop the spread of infections and apologized for the inconvenience.
Elsewhere in China, the Omicron variant and its sub-variant BA.5 are slipping past the country’s many defenses, challenging the leadership’s insistence on eradicating infections. The city of Lanzhou in northwest China imposed a week-long lockdown on its population of about four million from Wednesday after recording 122 cases last week.
At the same time, local officials are under pressure to help revive the economy, which has been dragged down by Covid controls. In a sign that Beijing is concerned about managing the costs of coronavirus tests, China’s health authority said local governments were no longer required to test certain imported products. Authorities had previously blamed contaminated packaging of imported products for the spread of the virus, although studies show that transmission of the virus through packaging is extremely rare.