The mass testing announcements have sparked fears of a return to strict and prolonged lockdown among Shanghai residents, many of whom have been confined to their homes for two months or more since March.
At least seven of the city’s 16 districts, with a combined population of 15 million people, will carry out mass testing over the weekend, Zhao Dandan, deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, said at a news conference on Thursday. . The districts include Shanghai’s most populous areas and bustling business centers such as Pudong and Xuhui.
Districts that have reported positive cases since Shanghai lifted the city-wide lockdown on June 1 will be placed under “closed management” during test sample collection, Zhao said. She did not specify how long the sampling period will last.
In China’s Covid zero policy lexicon, “closed management” often refers to restrictions that prevent people from leaving their residential communities or workplaces.
But the mass testing campaign extends far beyond the seven districts named by Shanghai’s health authorities.
On Thursday night, Changning district, which is home to Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport and 700,000 residents, announced on its official social media account that it will conduct mass Covid testing on Saturday.
“During the sampling period, closed management will apply in residential communities where (residents) can only enter but not leave,” the statement said.
Earlier on Thursday, Songjiang District also said on social media that its 1.9 million residents are expected to be tested for Covid over the weekend.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly pledged to follow the zero Covid policy, which aims to quickly eliminate local outbreaks with mass testing, instant lockdowns, extensive contact tracing and quarantine.
Officials warn that a relaxation of the policy will lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths among the country’s elderly population – many of whom have not yet been fully vaccinated.
But the strategy is facing a growing challenge from the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and causing growing discontent among residents whose lives have often been cut short.
In China, the detection of a single positive case can put an entire building or community under government quarantine and put several nearby neighborhoods under lockdown for two weeks.
Since the loosening of restrictions on June 1, Shanghai has continued to report cases of Covid, including among residents outside the quarantine areas. As a result, an increasing number of neighborhoods were put back under strict lockdown.
Video obtained by CNN shows tall fences erected to cordon off a large part of the tree-lined former French concession area in central Shanghai.
On Thursday, Shanghai authorities reported six new local cases of Covid, three of which were attributed to a hair salon in the center of the city. State media had previously reported that three employees at the salon tested positive, likely resulting in the quarantining of 13 other workers and 502 customers – and their close contacts – who visited the salon last week.
A Shanghai resident told CNN that more than 200 people who live in two buildings in his neighborhood have been placed in isolation after two residents were identified as close contacts of the hair salon’s cases.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, the city’s largest district announced on Thursday the closure of all entertainment venues, including bars, internet cafes and some sports facilities, just days after allowing them to reopen.
The abrupt U-turn came after authorities reported three local Covid cases, all linked to a bar in Chaoyang district, which is home to the capital’s main nightlife scenes. Several other districts in Beijing have announced similar closures.