To the people of Shanghai who have reached the limit of their patience with a confinement that has locked them at home for two weeks, a senior health official has a message: “We cannot let our guard down.
Despite reports that the shutdown of daily life in Shanghai has caused food shortages and reduced access to medical care, Liang Wannian, a senior official with China’s National Health Commission, said on Sunday that the lockdown was the best way to ensure that “people first, life first.”
As part of the country’s zero-Covid strategy, Shanghai and more than a dozen other cities across China are under full or partial lockdowns to deal with spikes in Omicron cases of the coronavirus. The closures expose a growing social and economic cost of the strategy, which has been abandoned almost everywhere else in the world.
Other countries have lifted most restrictions, but “staying flat is not an option for China”, Liang said, referring to the phenomenon of “staying flat”, or relaxing, in the face of a challenge.
China’s relatively low vaccination rate among the elderly and its limited health care resources to treat severe virus cases continue to worry authorities and prevent them from easing pandemic restrictions. There are about 264 million people over the age of 60 in China, and some 40 million of them have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Infections among this group were inevitable, Liang said, but “we have to take it seriously”. He spoke in an interview with Chinese state media.
Health authorities reported 27,419 new locally transmitted cases in China on Monday, most of them in Shanghai, a city of 26 million people. This number of cases is low compared to many countries, but the recent surge, fueled by the Omicron variant, is the largest China has seen so far.
China has reported more than 200,000 Locally transmitted coronavirus cases in Shanghai since the current outbreak began last month, mostly mild or asymptomatic. The city has only one case currently classified as “serious”; officials said the case required hospital treatment but did not give details. No deaths have been reported in the current outbreak.
Mass testing, a key part of China’s strategy to eliminate infections, has allowed health authorities to isolate patients who test positive and quickly send them to a hospital or isolation center. The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou said last week it would test all 18 million of its residents, after a small number of locally transmitted cases – fewer than 30 – were reported over the course of of the previous seven days. Shanghai officials announced a second round of mass testing for the city’s 25 million people over the weekend.
In the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, authorities began Monday requiring residents wishing to use the city’s subway to have had a negative nucleic acid test result in the past 48 hours. Passengers must show their test result and scan a code of the specific subway car they are sitting in, so authorities can track exposure, according to a notice posted online by Wuhan Metro on Monday.
Although Liang indicated that China would not back down from its coronavirus strategy, Shanghai authorities appeared to be responding to public outcry over the city’s handling of the outbreak. The vice mayor said Saturday the city would begin lifting lockdowns in neighborhoods that go 14 days without a new case. On Monday, the city announced a system for categorizing districts based on the number of positive cases reported in each.
However, these measures will do little to mitigate the larger economic impact of the lockdown, some economists have said.
“The extent of the lockdown is much more severe than people realize,” said Bo Zhuang, China analyst at investment firm Loomis Sayles.
For most of last year, only a few cities in China were in lockdown at any given time, and the economic damage was manageable, Zhuang said. But these days, he estimated, the equivalent of about a quarter of China’s economic output is on hold.
“Now we’re talking about a few provinces under lockdown because of Omicron,” Zhuang said. “It would be a risk for the future.”
The growing frustration of having a disrupted daily life is another risk.
When millions of people in Wuhan learned of new rules imposed overnight on the city’s subway system on Monday morning, many took to social media to complain.
“Since Wuhan lifted the lockdown two years ago, it has implemented the strictest prevention and control measures,” Zhai Haichao, a writer and businessman, wrote on the popular Chinese media platform. social Weibo. “It is worrying that we do not see the end of the pandemic.”