SHANGHAI – Shanghai has set a goal to stop the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outside the quarantine area by Wednesday, two people familiar with the matter said, adding that the city will begin to ease its lockdown and return to normal. Life goes on as public frustration grows.
According to a speech by a local Communist Party official on Saturday, the goal is for officials to expedite the COVID test and transfer positive cases to a segregation center, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
The shutdown of community-level transmission has become a turning point for other Chinese areas that have been locked down, such as the city of Shenzhen, which reopened public transport last month and allowed businesses to return to work after achieving that goal.
Shanghai has been the epicenter of China’s largest outbreak since the virus was first identified in late 2019, and has recorded more than 320,000 COVID infections since its onset in early March.
Frustrated Shanghai residents have taken to social media to express their displeasure with local authorities over food shortages, lost income, isolated families and poor conditions at the central quarantine center. Tensions have sometimes escalated into protests or clashes with police.
The Chinese economy and global supply chains are also feeling the pinch due to closed factories and transportation disruptions in many parts of China affected by the Kovid-19 trade.
Shanghai has already taken step-by-step steps to relax restrictions. State TV reported Sunday that some supermarkets have reopened their doors to shoppers, although many residents have expressed disbelief in social media postings. A Shanghai government-backed social media account said it was in a suburban district.
By April 20, Shanghai’s new “community-level zero-covid” target had been announced in recent days to organizations such as the city’s Communist Party cadres and schools, according to sources, who declined to be named because the information was not disclosed.
At the community level, China’s definition of zero-cavid status means that no new cases emerge outside the quarantine area.
A speech by the city’s Baoshan district party secretary on Saturday described it as an order that the situation in the city had reached a “critical moment”, with growing public concern and food supply pressures.
“The State Council Working Group, the Municipal Party Committee and the municipal government have stated that the turning point of the epidemic should be present on the 17th and reach zero-covid state on the 20th,” Chen said in a statement.
The Shanghai government and the State Council of China did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Baoshan district government could not be reached by phone outside working hours on Sunday.
“It simply came to our notice then. It can also be said that this is a complete attack, a last-ditch fight to reverse the epidemic trend, “the statement said.
A Shanghai resident told Reuters his neighborhood committee had sent a notice to residents on Sunday that more staff and buses had been run to transfer positive cases to a segregation center in their compound.
Pictures and videos circulated on Chinese social media on Saturday evening showed users testing positive for Kovid outside a town in Shanghai’s eastern Pudong district, saying numerous buses lined up to remove long lines of people. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the post.
Of the 23,643 new local infections reported in Shanghai for Saturday, 722 were found outside the quarantine area, said Wu Jinglei, director of the Shanghai Health Commission. He told a news conference on Sunday that the number had dropped in the last two days.
For China’s “dynamic clearance” approach to covid control, authorities must centrally quarantine all cases and separate their close acquaintances.
Beijing authorities intervened in Shanghai in early April, after the financial center failed to dismantle COVID-19 even after periodically locking the city. Chinese President Xi Jinping has insisted that China should not relax its coronavirus system and remain steadfast in its efforts to eradicate it.
Shanghai began locking down the area east of the Huangpu River on March 28 and extended the citywide lockdown on April 1. In the past week, it has eased the movement of some residents, but most businesses are closed and public transport is suspended.
Business leaders have become increasingly outspoken about the lockdown toll on the Chinese economy, with automakers warning that they could be forced to shut down production completely if their suppliers in Shanghai and neighboring areas do not start work soon.
On Friday, China’s industrial regulator said it had identified 666 companies in Shanghai as priority companies in the semiconductor, automobile and medical sectors that needed to be restarted.
Towards the end of Saturday, Shanghai authorities issued guidelines on what companies should do to resume production in the city, such as stockpiling medical supplies and submitting COVID prevention plans for their factories.
Reuters reports that Tesla is preparing to reopen its Shanghai plant on April 18.
SAIC Motor Corp, a Chinese partner at Volkswagen and General Motors, said it was preparing to resume production and would begin “stress testing” on Monday. – Reuters