Beijing (AP) - China on Monday launched the most comprehensive coronavirus lockdown in two years to conduct mass testing in Shanghai and control the growing outbreak as it questioned the economic toll of the country's "zero-covid" strategy.
Shanghai, China's financial capital and the largest city with a population of 26 million, managed smaller previous outbreaks, including limited lockdowns of housing compounds and workplaces where the virus spread.
But the citywide lockdown that will be conducted in two phases will be china's most widespread from the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, confining its 11 million people to their homes for 76 days in early 2020. Millions more have since been put in lockdown.
Shanghai's Pudong financial district and surrounding areas will be locked down from Monday to Friday as mass testing continues, the local government said. In the second phase of the lockdown, the vast downtown area west of the Huangpu river that divides the city will begin its own five-day lockdown on Friday.
Residents will have to stay home and be left at delivery checkpoints to ensure there is no contact with the outside world. Offices and all businesses not considered necessary will remain closed and public transport will remain suspended.
Already, many communities within Shanghai have been locked down over the past week, their housing compounds have been shut down with blue and yellow plastic barriers, and residents will have to submit multiple tests for COVID-19. Shanghai's Disneyland theme park is among the previously shuttered businesses. Automaker Tesla is also suspending product at its Shanghai factory, according to media reports.
Fear-buying was reported on Sunday on supermarket shelves drawing up food, drinks and household particulars. Additional barriers are being created in the surrounding areas on Monday, staff at the checkpoint of hazmat suit staff.
Personal observations of the April 5 Tomb broom festival have been cancelled and instead the souvenirs will be held online.
Some workers, including dealers in the megacity's stock request, were preparing to stay in a COVID-19"bubble"for the duration of the lockdown.
Li Xiamin, 31, who works in the finance industry, said he had packed clothes and supplies for several days and that his company was managing to sleep and eat.
" The overall impact is still great, "Lee told The Associated Press, pointing to the loss of workers, especially in the informal sector who have no similar support.”
Huang Qi, 35, who works at a local university, said he had previously locked up at home and prepared for the new round by stocking up.
" I suppose if the bandh continues like this, our academy staff will not suffer much, but what about those who work in the real frugality?", Huang said,
"I still hope that our society can find a good balance between ensuring a normal life and preventing and controlling epidemics," Huang added.
Shanghai detected a further 3,500 cases of the infection on Sunday, although there were all but 50 who tested positive for the coronavirus but were not showing symptoms of COVID-19. While asymptomatic people can still infect others, China classifies such cases differently from "confirmed cases" – among those who are sick – which leads to a much lower total in daily reports.
Nationwide, 1,219 new confirmed cases of domestic infection were detected on Sunday, with over 1,000 of them in the northeastern province of Jilin, with 4,996 asymptomatic cases, the National Health Commission said on Monday.
Jilin reported two deaths on March 20. Previously, mainland China's official death toll was 4,636 for a year. China has reported further than 56,000 verified cases nationwide this month, with jilin upswing for utmost of them.
Jilin province is enforcing travel bans and partial lockdowns in several cities, including Changchun, one of the hubs of China's auto industry. Although the province has seen more than 1,000 new confirmed cases every day, the prevention and control measures adopted there do not appear to have been as extreme as elsewhere.
As is customary, Jilin is creating pre-fabricated temporary wards to accommodate Covid-19 patients and those under observation as suspected cases. Structures that are capable of accommodating more than 6,000 people are also being built in the city of Suzhou, located about an hour's drive from Shanghai, as well as Changsha in the heart of the country and Shenyang in the northeast.
Shanghai itself has transformed two gymnasiums, an exhibition hall and other facilities into homes of potentially infected patients. China has called its long-standing "zero-tolerance" approach the most profitable and effective forestallment strategy against COVID-19.
The new measures implemented in Shanghai are aimed at "preventing the spread of the virus, protecting people's lives and health, and achieving the dynamic zero-Covid target as soon as possible," the city's Office for Covid-19 Prevention and Control said in an announcement sunday evening.
This requires a lockdown and mass testing, with close contacts often being quarantined at home or at a central government facility. The strategy focuses on barring community transmission of the contagion as snappily as possible.
While officials, including Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, have encouraged more targeted measures, local officials take a more extreme approach by worrying about being dismissed or otherwise punished for their alleged failure to contain the outbreak.
More recently, Hunan province, which has seen relatively few cases, has ordered penalties against 19 officials "anti-epidemic policies have failed to consolidate vigorously," state broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday.
With China's economic growth already slowing down, extreme measures are seen as worsening the difficulties of hitting employment, consumption and even the global supply chain. With a 21-day curfew for all foreigners arriving from abroad, travel between China and other countries has dropped dramatically.
On Friday, the International Air Transport Association announced that it was moving its annual general meeting from Shanghai to Doha, citing "continued COVID-19-related restrictions on travel to China". IATA Director General Willy Walsh said in a press release: "It is deeply disappointing that we are not able to meet as planned in Shanghai. "
Still, the announcement of Shanghai's dates when the two lockdowns will be lifted shows a further refinement of China's approach. The previous citywide lockdowns were open-ended. Although China's vaccination rate is around 87%, it is considerably lower in older people who are more likely to become seriously ill if infected with the virus.