Omicron in China: Shanghai denies rumours of early snap lockdown for Puxi
- Authorities dismiss suggestions that the stay-at-home orders will be brought forward by two days
- The city appears to be following the Shenzhen model – a short, sharp lockdown shock to quash outbreaks
Shanghai authorities have denied rumours that it will place the Puxi area on the western bank of Huangpu River under lockdown from Tuesday night, roughly two days earlier than originally planned.
“These are pure rumours,” the government said on its official WeChat account on Tuesday afternoon.
The Pudong area, on the river’s eastern bank, locked down for four days on Monday, with its 5.7 million residents ordered to stay home for mass testing.
Puxi will be subject to the same restrictions from April 1, in a rolling lockdown that will eventually screen all 25 million people in one of the country’s biggest population centres.
Such snap lockdowns are expected to be China’s prevailing Covid-19 containment strategy in the lead-up to the Communist Party’s five-yearly national congress in the autumn.
On Tuesday, China reported 1,228 local confirmed cases with most recorded in the northeastern province of Jilin, which has been racing for weeks to contain its outbreak. There were also 5,658 local asymptomatic cases across the country, including 4,381 from Shanghai and 812 in Jilin province.
The pandemic and China’s stringent control measures have disrupted the economy and livelihoods.
On Tuesday, Jilin officials apologised for closing two large vegetable markets in Changchun, the provincial capital, which hampered vegetable supplies to households in lockdown.
The Shanghai government said it planned a number of relief measures, from rent cuts to early tax rebates, to help small and medium-sized enterprises survive the crisis.
Until this month, Shanghai, with a population of nearly 25 million, had been held up as a model after recording just 400 cases and seven deaths from the start of the pandemic. More than 95 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated.
However, the city has reported around 20,000 Covid-19 infections since March 1, registering more cases in four weeks than in the past two years of the pandemic, putting at risk its much-lauded containment strategy of district-to-district rolling lockdowns.
In Pudong, residents are confined to their neighbourhoods, with all public transport and private cars barred from travelling between the two zones. The city’s lockdowns are shorter than those adopted in other provinces which have lasted weeks, or even months.
“It suggests that policymakers see snap lockdowns as a better strategy in the face of Omicron BA.2,” said Larry Hu, economist at Macquarie Capital. “The lockdown in Shanghai confirms that China would stick to the zero-Covid policy, at least by the party congress this autumn.”
Chinese shares ended lower on Tuesday, pulled down by technology and consumer discretionary stocks, as the lockdown in Shanghai weighed on China’s growth outlook. At the close, the Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.33 per cent at 3,203.94.
Ding Shuang, an economist at Standard Chartered, also said a dynamic zero-Covid policy was likely to be maintained until the party congress to prevent a runaway outbreak but the policy could be tweaked to reduce its economic effects.
“Preparations are being made for an eventual exit from zero-Covid,” Ding said. “China is likely to adapt its Covid control measures based on the experience of other regions determined to lived with the virus, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, while putting in place preconditions for an eventual exit.”
Medical experts have identified key preconditions for moving away from zero-Covid, including having a high vaccination rate for the elderly, ample hospital capacity and a sufficient supply of medicines, such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid which was approved by China for emergency use last month.