China Tightens Covid Noose as Shanghai, Beijing Cases Linger
- Quiet periods, expanded isolation and home disinfection begins
- Stricter policies started to squeeze out lingering infections
China is tightening pandemic restrictions in Shanghai and expanding a mass testing sweep in Beijing as officials chase the elusive goal of wiping out Covid-19 cases in the community.
The country reported 3,426 new infections for Monday, the lowest daily tally since March 16. Cases in Shanghai, where the biggest outbreak remains underway, fell to a six week low of 3,014 after peaking at more than 27,000 a day in mid-April. In Beijing, new infections rose to 74, though they have yet to exceed 100-a-day in the current flare-up.
Despite the low numbers, authorities are ramping up curbs. Some Shanghai neighborhoods have announced “quiet periods,” where residents aren’t allowed to go outside and deliveries are curbed, while more people are being shipped off to government-run isolation centers under a new definition of what it means to be a close contact. In Beijing, areas beyond the biggest district Chaoyang are instituting rounds of mass testing with schools in the capital to remain shut.
The moves underscore the lengths officials will go to for a virus strategy that is leaving China isolated and out of step with the rest of the world, where Covid is now widespread. The country is trying to eliminate the last vestiges of Covid in their cities, and the tighter restrictions and stepped-up moves suggest the lockdowns that have confined millions of residents to their homes for more than a month won’t be eased soon.
Authorities expanded the criteria for close contacts in Shanghai, with people living in the same building as a positive Covid case at risk of being removed to government-run isolation facilities if they have regular daily interactions. Previously, people thought only those living in the same apartment or the same floor as positive cases would likely be considered close contacts and put in official quarantine.
A brigade of hundreds of volunteers dressed head-to-toe in protective gear are disinfecting the apartments of those who test positive, as well as the homes of neighbors who share kitchens or bathrooms, to further control the virus, officials said. Meanwhile, the last two subway lines in operation were suspended, according to The Paper.
Across the country, plunging subway travel – down 22% from a week earlier in 11 large cities – and home sales declines of more than 50% compared to a year earlier show the economic turmoil the measures are causing.
Uncertainties persist around Beijing’s virus situation, local health official Pang Xinghuo said at a Monday briefing. All regions in Chaoyang, Shunyi, Fangshan and other neighborhoods that found cases in the past seven days will conduct three rounds of mass Covid tests starting Tuesday, according to information shared at the press conference.
Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan on Monday reiterated the country’s adherence to Covid Zero, saying outbreaks should be stamped out as soon as they are detected, Xinhua reported. She urged the importance of early warning, and stressed the availability of PCR tests within 15 minutes’ walk in big cities.
China’s Covid Zero policy requires all cases and their close contacts to be isolated in government facilities as a way of snuffing out transmission. The strategy was effective at quashing Covid early on in the pandemic, but is being challenged by more transmissible variants like omicron.
The country’s ongoing pursuit of the strategy is leaving it increasingly isolated, with other parts of the world dismantling pandemic curbs and living alongside the virus, making the scenes in China all the more stark.