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On Tuesday, police and security staff in protective suits stand outside cordoned-off food stores during a coronavirus outbreak in Shanghai. Photo: Reuters

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.

Authorities in the Chinese commercial hub announced a two-stage Covid-19 lockdown on Sunday night to try to contain a spreading outbreak of the coronavirus driven by the Omicron variant.

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.


Shanghai imposes phased lockdowns as daily Covid infection numbers surge beyond 3,000

Shanghai imposes phased lockdowns as daily Covid infection numbers surge beyond 3,000

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.

More than 70,000 people across all 31 provinces have tested positive for the coronavirus in this wave, most of them with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. Tens of millions of people are confined to their homes or quarantine venues as China maintains a “dynamic zero-Covid” strategy, which includes mass testing.

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.

Shanghai virus lockdowns spark ‘fear’, frustration among European businesses

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.

Then came Sunday’s announcement that half of the city would lock down for four days, followed by the other half for another four days.

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.

But Shanghai does appear to be shifting to the Shenzhen model which largely quashed that city’s outbreaks with a forceful citywide week-long lockdown.

“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.”


China’s Jilin province remains Covid-19 epicentre of country’s latest pandemic wave

China’s Jilin province remains Covid-19 epicentre of country’s latest pandemic wave

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.

President Xi Jinping has called for “persistence” and “accountability” in implementing the dynamic zero-Covid policy, saying he wanted to minimise the impact of the pandemic on the economy and society.

‘People must still live and earn as we fight Omicron’: Shanghai expert

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.”

China has been fine-tuning its Covid-19 policy to minimise damage to the economy. Protocols for diagnosis and treatment have been altered, including taking steps to regard mild and severe cases differently, allow rapid antigen tests to confirm infection and install a more efficient hospital discharge policy.

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.