BEIJING (AP) — The city of Shanghai is doubling down on pandemic restrictions after a brief period of easing, frustrating residents who hoped a month-plus lockdown would finally ease as the number of new cases falls in the center Chinese financier.
Teams in white protective suits began entering the homes of those infected with coronavirus to spray disinfectant, raising concerns among some about damage to clothing and valuables and leaving their keys with a community volunteer when taken to quarantine – a new requirement for disinfectant workers can enter.
Shanghai also ordered people in some areas to stay at home again after letting them go out for limited shopping in recent weeks. On Tuesday, service was suspended on the last two subway lines still operating, marking the first time the city’s entire system has been shut down, according to The Paper, an online media outlet.
China’s adherence to a ‘zero-COVID’ strategy, as many other countries ease restrictions and try to live with the virus, demands a growing economy and the human cost. Increasingly extreme measures have been required to bring outbreaks under control because the omicron variant spreads so easily. China’s ruling Communist Party, with its eye on a major party congress this fall, shows no signs of backing down anytime soon.
Escaping Shanghai is virtually impossible, but that hasn’t stopped an unofficial how-to guide – detailing how to navigate lockdown checks and find a seat on the few trains and planes leaving the city – from circulating widely on the networks social. Many residents of the city of 25 million shared their frustration with the renewed restrictions in chat groups.
The daily number of new cases in Shanghai had fallen to around 3,000 on Monday, from a peak of 26,000 in mid-April. Six more deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported, bringing the toll of the outbreak to 553.
Beijing on Tuesday began another three-day round of mass testing for millions of its residents in a bid to prevent an outbreak in the nation’s capital from reaching the proportions of Shanghai. The city, which recorded 74 new cases on Monday, locked down individual buildings and residential complexes, closed about 60 subway stations and banned eating in restaurantsonly allowing take-out and delivery.
The epidemic did not explode, but neither did it stop spreading. Beijing spokesman Xu Hejian described the situation on Tuesday as a “stalemate” and said the city must continue its strict measures.
While traffic is sparse in Beijing, it’s almost nonexistent in Shanghai, where the lockdown has lasted longer and is citywide. AP video shot on Monday showed a quiet, deserted town, with only the very occasional vehicle and a few food delivery drivers on scooters moving through empty roads. Most people are confined to their apartments or residential complexes, although there has been some easing in outlying suburban areas with no new cases in their communities.
But notices posted in several districts of Shanghai in recent days ordered residents to stay at home and barred them from receiving non-essential deliveries as part of a “period of silence” that will last until Wednesday or longer. The measures could be extended depending on the results of the mass tests, according to the notices. The sudden crunch took residents by surprise.
Shanghai official Jin Chen on Tuesday appeared to acknowledge complaints about disinfecting people’s homes, thanking them for their cooperation and saying the government would analyze and fix any problems. He said residents can notify crews of anything that needs protection.
“Household disinfection is an important part of overall epidemic prevention and control,” he told a daily virus news briefing.
A constitutional law professor, Tong Zhiwei, recently published an article calling on Shanghai to end what he called “excessive pandemic prevention measures,” such as quarantining residents and forcing them to turn in the keys to their house, saying the demands violate the rule of law.
The article has been removed from the internet because the government is censoring criticism of its response.
Thousands of people have been forced into quarantine centers after testing positive or coming into contact with an infected person, standard procedure in China’s zero-COVID approach.
Associated Press researchers Si Chen in Shanghai and Yu Bing in Beijing contributed.