Shanghai fears second lockdown as China battles covid BA.5 variant

The arrival of the BA.5 coronavirus variant in China threatens economically damaging shutdowns across the country, including in Shanghai, where many residents only recently emerged from a grueling two-month lockdown in their homes.

Over the weekend, the nation’s most populous city confirmed that the increasingly dominant omicron subvariant had arrived just weeks after officials declared victory against coronavirus following a citywide lockdown.

Even though the total number of infections in China remains low compared to many other countries – the National Health Commission reported 352 locally transmitted cases on Monday – Beijing remains deeply concerned that the arrival of the sub -highly transmissible variant will lead to a massive epidemic and a wave of deaths, especially among the under-vaccinated elderly population.

Shanghai residents share their experience of life under lockdown

Shanghai authorities quickly tried to allay fears of a return to April and May, when the city’s reputation as a well-run international financial hub was shattered by the most disruptive restrictions on foreigners. coronavirus in China since the initial outbreak in Wuhan.

In response to questions about another large-scale lockdown being imminent, the government said on social media app WeChat that the plan was simply to carry out PCR tests for all residents in nine of the 16 districts of the city.

While just one street had been designated high risk, 37 were deemed medium risk on Monday, meaning residents are not allowed to leave their homes.

On the Weibo microblog, many noted that Shanghai officials made similar denials of a broader lockdown in March. “At first, I half believed them. As soon as there was a refusal, I rushed to stock up on goods,” read a comment that received more than 10,000 likes.

Growing concern among residents has been met with continued optimistic messages from propagandists. The local government on Friday launched a month-long campaign to collect photos, videos and artifacts to tell a “heartwarming” story of the city’s lockdown, according to the Shanghai edition of Wen Wei Po, a news outlet. sale public based in Hong Kong. .

During the last lockdown, getting groceries or getting basic medical care became a daily struggle for the city’s 25 million residents. Calls to mental health helplines have tripled. For many, the trauma has been compounded by the authorities’ ever-changing goals, creating deep uncertainty about when the restrictions will end.

Last month, in the clearest indication yet of priorities, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the likely consequences of a coronavirus policy shift “incredibly” bad.

Implementing a “dynamic zero covid policy” is always best suited to China’s national situation, he said. saidand protects the overall safety and health of the masses “even if it temporarily impacts economic growth somewhat.”

At the same time, Xi ordered that sound economic performance be maintained “as much as possible”, leaving local officials with a delicate balancing act.

Economic activity indicators plunged during the strict lockdowns and the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds hit a record 18.4% in May, leading to emergency meetings led by Premier Li Keqiang during which he urged officials to do more. The government has also begun to gradually change coronavirus policy, including reducing quarantine requirements for international arrivals from 14 to seven days at a government-run facility.

But even with further stimulus, many analysts doubt China can meet its annual economic target of 5.5% gross domestic product growth, especially as the arrival of BA.5 has led cities across China to tighten coronavirus controls again.

After months of lockdown, people and traffic return to Shanghai streets

Macau, the former Portuguese colony and the main gambling destination in Asia, announcement On Monday, it closed its casinos for a week, marking the first time in more than two years that it had adopted such strict measures, to stem an outbreak of more than 1,500 confirmed infections.

A similar increase in restrictions is underway across China, with cities including Hangzhou, Hefei and Nanchang increasing the frequency of mandatory PCR testing. Starting midnight Sunday, the northern city of Lanzhou imposed week-long “temporary control measures”, closing most businesses and public spaces after reporting just over two dozen of cases.

The spread of BA.5, which appears to be resistant to antibodies built from vaccines and previous infections, also adds urgency to China’s vaccination campaign. In Beijing, the local government imposed China’s first vaccination mandate for public places last week – only to reverse the decision days later after a public backlash against the forced vaccination.

“China needs to go back to basics and launch a strong campaign for third doses, especially in the elderly,” University of Hong Kong virologist Jin Dongyan told local media.

Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

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