The gates to the world’s largest consumer market have been temporarily left ajar, as a rolling lockdown to contain Shanghai’s worst Covid-19 outbreak paralysed one of China’s busiest airports and left the biggest container port running at less than its full capacity. A mere 28 flights took off and landed as of 5pm on Tuesday at the Pudong airport, which used to handle 892 flights on a typical day in 2021, according to VariFlight Technology. Air freight may stop altogether by Thursday, as haulage trucks are barred from approaching the airport, said the official of an Asian airline. The Yangshan deep water port and the Waigaoqiao harbour, located in the area east of the Huangpu River under lockdown since Monday, are operating at half their capacity amid strict quarantine and testing procedures to snuff out the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the disease. “Passenger and cargo flows have been severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, but the bigger question is how long the lockdown would last,” said Xiong Hao, an assistant general manager at Shanghai Jump International Shipping. “After all, Shanghai is the transport hub where millions of people and tons of goods flow in and out of the mainland via the ports.” Shanghai, with 25 million residents, has recorded 26,000 Covid-19 cases since the start of March, adding more infections in four weeks than it did in two years. Even though most of the confirmed cases were asymptomatic, local authorities took no chances, unexpectedly locking down Pudong on Monday to mass test the area’s residents. The rolling lockdown will move to Puxi, west of the Huangpu River, from April 1 through April 5 for residents to be tested for Covid-19. Yangshan port handled 22.8 million twenty-foot (TEUs) containers last year, making it the world’s busiest port. The deepwater harbour, connected to Shanghai via one of the world’s longest bridges, is running under a strict closed loop protocol, where workers have to work and live temporarily in a sealed-off area to ensure zero contact with outsiders. The workforce had been divided into two teams, where quay crane operators, haulage drivers, harbour workers, technicians, and logistics staff go on rotation in closed loops to strike a delicate balance between containment and choking off China’s most vital commercial artery. An estimated 80 per cent of global trade is carried by sea. Sea freight is typically used to carry mineral ores, chemicals, bulky items like vehicles, furniture and perishable items in refrigerated containers. Air freight is usually used to carry high-value goods like electronics, apparels and even semiconductor chip. Will lower fees help China’s ports widen their lead over Hong Kong? “It remains to be seen whether the pandemic will, in the long term, affect Shanghai’s status as the world’s largest container port,” said Lu Ming, an agent at Shanghai Ocean Shipping Agency. “But a [roughly] 50 per cent usage of handling capacity at this juncture appears to be satisfactory given the harsh prevention and control measures.” Similar measures are in place at Waigaoqiao and Pudong airport, exerting severe pressure on some of the most important transport links in China’s commercial hub. Thousands of businesses across Pudong have been affected, from small corner shops to multinational companies like Tesla’s Gigafactory3, and Walt Disney’s Shanghai Disneyland resort. Daily flights dwindled to 290 a day in March at Pudong’s airport, the larger of Shanghai’s two civilian airfields, since Covid-19 infections ticked up this month. That’s about a third of what went through the airport everyday last year, as airlines had to cancel flights because of travel restrictions that barred passengers and airline crew alike from getting to the airfield. Freight flights into Pudong are already operating at close to zero. Nearly all cargo flights into Pudong may be cancelled by Thursday, because few trucks are allowed anywhere near the airport terminals to discharge or load their cargo, said an official at an Asian airline’s freight unit, declining to give his name. Officials at Pudong airport and at the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) could not be reached to comment about the airfield’s passenger and freight flight operations. In late April, 2020 when China became the world’s first major economy to emerge out of the Covid-19 pandemic, a congestion at the Pudong airport forced some truck drivers to spend three days in queues before they could drop off their shipments at the terminals.