BEIJING (Reuters) – China began locking down most of its major city Shanghai on Monday with the outbreak of the coronavirus and amid questions about the economic toll of the country’s “zero COVID” strategy.
The Pudong Financial District in Shanghai and its vicinity will be closed from early Monday to Friday as citywide mass testing begins, the local government said. In the second phase of the lockdown, the vast downtown area west of the Huangpu River that then divides the city will begin a five-day lockdown on Friday.
Residents will be asked to stay at home and deliveries will be left at checkpoints to ensure there is no contact with the outside world. Offices and all businesses not considered essential will be closed and public transportation suspended.
Already, many communities within the city of 26 million have been locked down, with residents required to undergo multiple tests for COVID-19. And the Disney theme park in Shanghai is among the businesses that closed earlier.
Shanghai detected 3,500 more cases of infection on Sunday, although all but 50 people tested positive but had no symptoms of COVID-19. China categorizes such cases separately from “confirmed cases” – those of people who are sick – which has led to a lower total of cases in daily reports.
China’s anti-COVID strategy requires lockdowns and mass testing
China has reported more than 56,000 infections nationwide this month, with an increase in northeastern Jilin Province accounting for most of them.
In response to its largest outbreak in two years, China has continued to implement what it calls a “dynamic zero COVID” approach, calling that the most economical and effective preventive strategy against COVID-19.
This requires lockdowns and mass testing, as close contacts are often isolated at home or at a central government facility. The strategy focuses on eliminating community transmission as quickly as possible, sometimes by shutting down entire cities.
While officials, including Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, have encouraged more targeted action, local officials tend to take a more extreme approach, worried they will be expelled or otherwise punished over accusations of failing to prevent the outbreak.
With China’s economic growth already slowing, the extreme measures are seen as exacerbating difficulties for employment, consumption and even global supply chains.
While the vaccination rate in China is about 87%, it is much lower among the elderly.
National data released earlier this month showed that more than 52 million people aged 60 or older have not yet been vaccinated with any COVID-19 vaccine. Booster rates are also low, with only 56.4% of people aged 60-69 receiving a booster dose, and 48.4% of people aged 70-79 receiving one.
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