Shanghai will test more than half of its 25 million residents for Covid-19 this weekend, fueling fears of a return to tighter restrictions just days after the financial hub emerged from two months of painful lockdown.
The mass testing announcements sparked fears of a return to a strict and prolonged lockdown among Shanghai residents, many of whom had been confined to their homes for two months or more since March.
Those fears have triggered panic buying. On Thursday, Shanghai residents rushed to supermarkets to stock up on food and other daily necessities, forming long lines at checkouts and leaving shelves empty, according to photos and videos released. circulated on social media.
At least seven of the city’s 16 districts, with a combined population of 15 million people, will carry out mass testing over the weekend, Zhao Dandan, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, said at a press conference on Thursday. Thursday. The districts include the most populated areas of Shanghai and the busiest commercial centers, such as Pudong and Xuhui.
Districts that have reported positive cases since Shanghai lifted the city lockdown on June 1 will be placed under “closed management” during the collection of test samples, Zhao said. He did not specify how long the sampling period will last.
In the lexicon of China’s covid-zero policy, “closed management” generally refers to restrictions that prevent people from leaving their residential communities or workplaces.
But the mass testing campaign extends far beyond the seven districts named by the Shanghai health authorities.
On Thursday night, Changning District, home to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport and 700,000 residents, announced on its official social media account that it will hold mass COVID-19 testing on Saturday.
“During the sampling period, closed management will be applied in residential communities, where (residents) can only enter but not exit,” the statement said.
Earlier on Thursday, the Songjiang district also said on social media that its 1.9 million residents are due for Covid tests over the weekend.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly vowed to stick to a zero-Covid policy, which aims to quickly eliminate local outbreaks with mass testing, snap lockdowns, extensive contact tracing and quarantine.
Officials warn that a relaxation of the policy will lead to a surge in hospitalizations and deaths among the country’s elderly population, many of whom have yet to be fully vaccinated.
But the strategy is facing a growing challenge from the highly transmissible Omicron variant and is causing growing discontent among residents whose lives have been frequently interrupted.
In China, the detection of a single positive case can send an entire building or community into government quarantine and shut down several nearby neighborhoods for two weeks.
Since the relaxation of restrictions on June 1, Shanghai has continued to report Covid cases, including among residents outside the quarantined areas. As a result, an increasing number of neighborhoods have been put back under strict lockdown measures.
Video obtained by CNN shows tall fences erected to cordon off a large section of the tree-lined former French concession area in central Shanghai.
On Thursday, Shanghai authorities reported six new local Covid cases, three of which were traced to a downtown hair salon. State media previously reported that three salon employees have tested positive, likely resulting in the quarantine of 13 other workers and 502 customers, and their close contacts, who visited the salon last week.
A Shanghai resident told CNN that more than 200 people who lived in two buildings in his neighborhood were placed under lockdown, after two residents were identified as close contacts of the hairdressing cases.
Meanwhile in Beijing, the city’s largest district on Thursday announced the closure of all entertainment venues, including bars, internet cafes and some sports facilities, just days after allowing them to reopen.
The abrupt U-turn came after authorities reported three local Covid cases, all linked to a bar in the Chaoyang district, home to the capital’s main nightlife scenes. Since then, several other districts in Beijing have announced similar closures.