China’s largest city, Shanghai, is ordering mass testing on Friday of all 1.3 million residents of its central Yangpu district and confining them to their homes, at least until the results are known.
The demand is an echo of measures ordered in the summer that led to a two-month lockdown of the entire city of 25 million, which devastated the local economy, causing food shortages and rare confrontations between residents and authorities.
At the beginning of the lockdown, the authorities said that it would last only a few days, but then kept extending it.
China showed no sign of backing down from its tough “zero COVID” policy after a major ruling Communist Party congress concluded this week with the awarding of authoritarian leader Xi Jinping a third five-year term in power and filling the top ranks with his loyalists.
Harsh measures have been imposed across the country, from Shanghai in the east to Tibet in the far west, where protests against the blockade have also been reported.
A cellphone recording smuggled out of the region showed crowds of native Tibetans and Chinese migrants thronging the streets of Lhasa to protest the 74-day blockade. The footage was reportedly taken on Wednesday night, but there were no signs of violence.
Lhasa has been under close scrutiny since bloody anti-government protests erupted in the city in 2008 before spreading to Tibetan areas.
Despite public anger, the former chairman of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee, the city’s top official ultimately responsible for the lockdown measures, was given the second seat on the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee – a sign of Xi’s high political stature. loyalty above those who are capable of receiving public support through competent administration.
Li Qiang, who was Xi Jinping’s virtual chief of staff while he led the eastern province of Zhejiang, has been replaced by Beijing Mayor Chen Jingning, a former president of Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University and environment minister.
Chen, 58, was educated at London’s Brunel University and worked at Imperial College London, where he earned a Ph.D. diploma in civil and environmental engineering in 1993.
Many Chinese were hoping for a relaxation of strict COVID-19 protocols that remain in place even as the rest of the world has opened up. China’s borders remain largely closed, and those arriving must undergo a 10-day quarantine in a designated location.
Despite the cost and the World Health Organization calling it unsustainable, China credits the strategy with keeping the number of cases and deaths at a fraction of other countries, although Beijing’s numbers have often been questioned.
China on Friday reported 1,337 new cases – most of them asymptomatic – and no new deaths. Shanghai reported 11 asymptomatic cases, while Tibet had one confirmed case with symptoms and five asymptomatic cases. China says it has recorded a total of 258,660 cases and 5,226 deaths since the pandemic was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.
In a sign that China’s tough measures will be maintained in the long term, Shanghai plans to build a permanent quarantine center on an island in the Huangpu River that shares the financial center, business magazine Caixin reported.
The 1.6 billion yuan ($221 million) project on Fuxing Island will expand existing facilities to create 3,009 isolation wards and 3,250 beds, with construction expected to be completed in six months, Caixin said.
Vaccines developed in China are considered relatively ineffective, and he has refused to approve foreign brands such as Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and J&J.
However, China wants more people to be vaccinated before easing its restrictions. As of mid-October, 90% of Chinese were fully vaccinated, and 57% had been revaccinated.
China has relied on domestically developed vaccines, primarily two inactivated vaccines that have proven effective in preventing death and serious illness, but less so than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in stopping the spread of the disease.
The Chinese authorities also do not mandate vaccination – entering an office building or otherwise public places a negative test for COVID-19 is required, not proof of vaccination. And the country’s strict “zero COVID” approach means that only a small fraction of the population has been infected and thus developed immunity compared to other places.
As a result, it is unclear how widespread COVID-19 will become once travel warnings and quarantines are lifted. Until then, the country of 1.4 billion people will remain under a lot of rules and restrictions.
In Tibet’s second-largest city, Shigatse, authorities announced that “normal life and production” would resume from Friday.
Meanwhile, authorities on Wednesday ordered a lockdown of 900,000 people in Wuhan for at least five days. In the remote Qinghai province, urban areas of the city of Xining have been closed since last Friday.
In Beijing, Universal Studios closed its hotels and attractions “to comply with pandemic prevention and control requirements.”
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