- Shanghai reports no COVID cases outside quarantine areas
- Beijing is on high alert, preparing for more restrictions
- The breakthrough would be a victory for Xi in a crucial year
- Infection declines as China begins Labor Day holiday
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Shanghai said on Saturday it had found no new COVID-19 cases daily outside of quarantine areas, marking a milestone in its battle to contain the virus that has paralyzed the city and paralyzed 25 million people. In the capital, Beijing, on the edge of the abyss.
Beijing’s streets were eerily quiet at the start of the five-day May Day holiday, as residents worried that authorities would impose more restrictions during the holiday when many would travel or socialize.
“You look at a city that was once crowded and is now empty. You wonder how these people manage to survive,” said Li, 35, who works in the financial sector in Beijing, with tears.
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In the eastern commercial capital of Shanghai, scenes of homes and buildings surrounded by fences to prevent residents from leaving have made headlines at a time when most other countries in the world are learning to live with COVID.
China maintains a COVID-free policy aimed at stamping out the disease, which is leading to frustration, especially in Shanghai, where many residents have been locked up for more than a month. Some, struggling to find food and other daily necessities, have shown rare public opposition to strict government controls.
However, if the Zero Tolerance campaign succeeds, it will be a victory for President Xi Jinping’s approach in a year in which he is expected to secure an unprecedented third term.
Shanghai officials did not discuss the interruption of COVID transmission at their daily press conference, but social media rejoiced at the news.
A post on Weibo said: “Shanghai has finally reached zero community level!!! I hope Shanghai wakes up as soon as possible!!”.
And zero cases were recorded Friday outside the quarantine areas in Shanghai, compared to 108 cases on Thursday. However, some played down the significance of this achievement, noting that most of the city’s residents were confined to some form of quarantine.
On Saturday, health authorities said there are nearly 16,000 closed areas in Shanghai, with more than 4 million people banned from leaving their homes. Another 5.4 million people were prevented from leaving their compounds.
In practice, many residents remaining in the low-risk prevention zones are still prohibited from leaving their compounds.
“Currently, epidemic control and prevention in the city is still in critical condition, and the trend is still that people need to strengthen controls,” said Zhao Dandan, deputy director of the Shanghai Health Commission.
The battle to curb the highly portable Omicron variant in Shanghai has come at a high cost to the economy, with logistical chains befuddled by restrictions.
Factory activity in China in April contracted at the fastest rate in 26 months to the lowest level since the early months of the epidemic, which was first detected in central China, as shutdowns halted industrial production and disrupted supply chains. Data released on Saturday raised fears of a sharp slowdown in the second quarter that would weigh on global growth. Read more
Shanghai officials, who say they are eager to get factories back to work, said more than 80% of 666 priority companies had restarted production and they had drawn up a second list of 1,188 companies.
Infections recede as China enters the May Day holiday, which lasts until Wednesday, traditionally one of the busiest tourist seasons. Read more
Some observers say the authorities have been less strict in getting people tested in recent days. But the local government in Beijing said residents must provide DNA test results before going to public places or using public transportation, valid after the holiday break.
Theme parks and entertainment venues in the capital are only allowed to operate at half capacity during the Labor Day holiday with advance reservations required.
Beijing will also carry out two more rounds of COVID tests on May 1 and May 3 in the more populous Chaoyang District, known for its nightlife, shopping malls and embassies.
An official from the local trade office said the city will stop all restaurants between May 1-4, calling on residents to “cook at home.”
Officials offered no timetable or strategy for returning to some semblance of normalcy.
Nomura estimates that 46 cities are in full or partial lockdown, affecting 343 million people. Société Générale estimates that provinces with significant restrictions account for 80% of China’s economic output.
China will step up its political support for the economy in response to the coronavirus outbreak and other headwinds, the Communist Party’s top decision-making body said on Friday, lifting stocks from two-year lows. Read more
Shanghai recorded 47 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, down from 52 the day before. Some have questioned the death rate, with many residents saying relatives or friends died after contracting the coronavirus as early as March.
Beijing has reported 295 new cases of COVID-19 since April 22, of which 123 were found in Chaoyang District, the local health authority said.
Overall, mainland China reported 10,793 daily cases of COVID-19, down from 15,688 new cases the day before, the National Health Commission said Saturday.
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(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Min Zhang and Xu Jing in Beijing; Writing by Anne Marie Rowntree; Editing by William Mallard and Ross Russell
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