Shanghai is temporarily restructuring itself, with a third of its 25 million population forced to stay at home this weekend for general screening, as President Xi Jinping has called for the “brutal” implementation of the zero Covid strategy.
China maintains strict measures against the coronavirus: mandatory quarantines for infected people, curfews as soon as cases arise, and PCR tests nearly necessary to enter a building or travel.
This health strategy, strongly advocated by the central power and Xi Jinping, is particularly motivated by the fact that many older people are not vaccinated against Covid-19. However, it requires significant logistical, human and economic resources in the face of an Omicron variant that has spread almost all over China in recent months, before showing a marked decline in recent weeks.
23 million people will be scanned
In Shanghai, which has long been the epicenter of this epidemic and has been completely closed for two long months, at least 15 of the city’s 16 districts have announced that they will conduct mass screening in the coming days. More than 23 million people are affected.
Six of these counties (Minhang, Yangpu, Putuo, Fengxian, Qingpu, and Changning), where more than eight million people live, will enforce quarantine until all samples are taken.
This screening campaign in Shanghai comes less than two weeks after the official lockdown ended, marked by food supply problems and tensions between infuriated residents and authorities. Most Shanghainese have returned to near-normal life, maintaining the city’s restaurants, bars and parks.
However, regional-level authorities continue to impose a number of local restrictions to prevent the re-emergence of the coronavirus. For this reason, hundreds of thousands of people are still confined to their homes.
Fear of going to jail
The announcement of the mass screening arouses the fear of many Shanghainese, who fear the idea of a return to jail. “I have a bad feeling,” wrote one user on the Chinese social network Weibo. Another says fences have been erected in his neighborhood and residents rush to supermarkets to stock up on rice or oil.
The central government is trying to find the right balance between eradicating the virus and limiting the economic consequences of quarantines that have hit hotels, restaurants, businesses and factories.
“We must effectively coordinate economic and social development and epidemic prevention and control,” and “we must overcome some of the challenges” in the economy and employment, Xi Jinping said on Thursday. But the Chinese president stressed that the country must “relentlessly adhere to a zero Covid strategy”, according to an account by the official news agency Chine nouvelle.
According to many economists, China will struggle to meet its growth target of “around 5.5 percent” this year due to business closures and disruption of supply chains caused by quarantines. The World Bank has already cut its growth forecast for this week to 4.3% for the Asian giant.
The total lockdown on Shanghai, whose port is one of the world’s largest, in early April depleted businesses in the region and consequently weakened global growth.
Beijing reopens, but concerns remain
In the capital city of Beijing, which has been under the shadow of quarantine for a long time, restaurants have reopened this week and employees can now return to their workplaces.
However, authorities reinstated the closure of bars, nightclubs and performance venues in the capital’s two central districts, Chaoyang and Dongcheng, on Thursday and Friday. This measure follows the detection of dozens of cases linked to bars and nightclubs.
Authorities installed new barriers around many residential areas overnight. An AFP reporter saw officers erect metal fences and transport pets.
Some companies have also asked their employees to be ready in case teleworking is reimposed.
At the national level, the Ministry of Health reported 73 new positive cases on Friday, with eight in Beijing and eleven in Shanghai.