Shanghai will not lock despite Covid peak: official

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Shanghai registered a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases on Saturday, but a member of the city’s pandemic task force said officials were determined to avoid a full-scale lockdown because of the damage it would do to the economy.

Millions of Chinese in affected areas have been subject to citywide lockdowns due to an Omicron-led outbreak that has sent daily cases soaring, though they remain insignificant compared to other countries.

However, Shanghai has set itself the goal of reducing disruption with a more targeted approach characterized by progressive 48-hour lockdowns of individual neighborhoods and large-scale testing, while largely preserving the metropolis of 25 million people.

At a daily press conference in Shanghai on Saturday, officials stressed the importance of avoiding a complete shutdown of the massive port city.

“If Shanghai, this city of ours, were to come to a complete standstill, there would be a lot of international cargo ships floating in the East China Sea,” said Wu Fan, a medical expert with the city’s pandemic task force.

“This would affect the entire national economy and the global economy.”

Wu made the comments when city officials also announced they would be distributing self-test kits to residents of Shanghai, in the latest sign of the government expanding its pandemic response.

Northeastern Jilin Province also said on Saturday it had begun distributing 500,000 rapid-antigen kits.

Shanghai and Jilin are the areas hardest hit by the outbreak, which started in early March.

China had largely kept the coronavirus — which first emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 — through strict zero-tolerance measures.

But that top-down approach is increasingly being questioned amid concerns about the economic impact and public “pandemic fatigue,” especially given Omicron’s less severe symptoms.

The National Health Commission announced two weeks ago that it would first introduce the sale of rapid antigen self-test kits in China, and they are beginning to appear on pharmacy shelves.

But Saturday’s announcements appeared to mark their first large-scale use as part of official measures to fight the pandemic.

China reported 5,600 new confirmed domestic broadcasts on Saturday, most of them asymptomatic.

Chinese authorities had watched nervously as a deadly Omicron wave in Hong Kong sparked panic buying and exacted a heavy toll on unvaccinated elderly people in the southern China city.

Its subsequent spread in mainland China has presented authorities with a dilemma as to how vigorously to respond.

On Wednesday, Shanghai’s infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong, a top doctor in the city’s pandemic battle, called for anti-virus measures to be balanced with preserving “normal life.”

The comments in his much-followed blog pointed to a growing official tolerance for voices questioning the lockdown approach.

Shanghai’s softer strategy has so far failed to prevent the number of cases from rising, and local lockdowns have sparked online grumbling and a run on groceries in some districts.

Shanghai reported another surge of new local broadcasts on Saturday to 2,269 — about 40 percent of the national total.


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