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SHANGHAI: Shanghai on Friday announced a record 21,000 new cases and a third consecutive day of COVID-19 testing as the lockdown of its 26 million people showed no signs of easing and Chinese cities tightened restrictions – even in places without recent infections.
Beijing has intervened in Shanghai after its tranches and grid approach failed, and is insisting the country stick to its COVID-19 elimination approach, which it says is key to maintaining rates of COVID-19. low mortality and prevent its medical system from collapsing.
Local authorities across China, which have mostly managed to keep COVID-19 at bay over the past two years, are stepping up coronavirus control measures, including movement restrictions, mass testing and new quarantine centers.
Among the cities that sprang into action this week include Zhengzhou in central Henan province, which said on Thursday it would test all 12.6 million residents after finding a few asymptomatic cases in recent days.
Beijing has stepped up regular screening of employees in key areas of the city, requiring all staff at aged care agencies, schools and institutions handling imported goods to take tests at least once a week.
In Shizong County, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, shops were closed, transport suspended and residents banned from leaving their towns or villages after an asymptomatic person returned from Shanghai and has infected a household member.
Nomura estimated this week that 23 Chinese cities have implemented full or partial lockdowns. The cities are collectively home to around 193 million people and contribute 22% of China’s GDP. These include Changchun, a major manufacturing hub which was locked down for 28 days.
Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics who studies the COVID-19 policies announced by China’s 100 largest cities, said most are choosing to keep restrictions in place even after case counts drop to zero.
“The extremely widespread COVID-19 restrictions beyond Shanghai and the risk-averse attitude of central and local government officials suggest that the economic impact of the various lockdowns will not subside in days or even weeks,” she said in a note.
Stories of overcrowded and unsanitary central quarantine centers and fears of family separation have prompted calls for home quarantine in Shanghai and China to review its “dynamic clearance” approach.
Although the government has not granted those requests, it has started allowing some close contacts to self-isolate at home and on Wednesday relaxed its policy of separating infected children from their parents. It also transfers some patients to neighboring provinces.
However, food supply remains a concern for residents, due to a shortage of couriers.
Authorities said they would allow more delivery workers to leave locked areas and on Friday local media reported that platforms owned by Alibaba and online grocer Dingdong Maicai had recalled about 3,500 workers in total.
Shanghai did not say when it might lift its lockdown.
Late Thursday, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on his Weibo account that the measures taken in Shanghai had to be “thunderous” to cut the chain of transmission.
In theory, he said, if multiple rounds of PCR tests were conducted in megacities of up to 27 million people in 2-3 days, they could reach zero cases “at the community level” in 10 days at two weeks.
“As long as these measures are well implemented, our country’s severe coronavirus epidemic situation will improve soon,” Wu said.