By Engen Tham and Eduardo Baptista
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Shanghai authorities tightened the citywide COVID lockdown they imposed more than a month ago, extending an ordeal the Chinese capital Beijing desperately wanted to avoid until the end of May through massive testing to near-zero levels. make a daily routine.
The 25 million commercial center made another attempt to reduce the number of cases outside the areas subject to the strictest thresholds to zero by the second half of May, people familiar with the case told Reuters.
People said movement restrictions will generally persist throughout the month due to fears of an uptick, even though the number of cases has fallen. Authorities in some districts have issued notices ordering people to return to their housing complexes after taking them for short walks or quick shopping.
In a video widely shared on Chinese social media, police in hazmat suits argue with residents who were told to quarantine after a neighbor tested positive.
“This is so that we can thoroughly remove any positive cases,” one of the officers is heard to say. “Stop asking me why, there’s no why. We have to follow national guidelines.”
Reuters was unable to independently verify the video.
The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The prolonged isolation and fear of being sent to quarantine centers, which sometimes lack showers and other basic conditions, have led to widespread frustration, even quarrels.
Videos posted online last week show dozens of employees at Apple and Tesla supplier Quanta overpowering hazardous materials security guards and jumping factory gates to escape confinement amid COVID rumours.
Strict COVID restrictions in Beijing, Shanghai and dozens of other major cities across China are taking a psychological toll on populations, weighing on the world’s second largest economy and disrupting global supply chains and international trade.
The measures are in stark contrast to most of the world, which is easing or removing COVID restrictions to live with the virus even as infections spread.
Beijing has closed gyms and entertainment venues, banned dining in restaurants and closed numerous bus routes and nearly 15% of the sprawling subway system, while many residents go out voluntarily.
“It’s kind of strange,” said a 50-year-old Beijing resident, nicknamed Ding, as he snapped a photo of an empty street leading to a closed-off subway station. “It’s the first time in all my years in Beijing that I see empty streets in the middle of summer. It’s magical.”
Businesses that stayed open didn’t see many customers because people didn’t want to do anything that could bring them near infected people and force them into quarantine.
“In the north of us there are malls and offices that are sealed, and their apps could mark them as close contacts if they come,” said a barber nicknamed Song, referring to the mobile surveillance software that all residents must use.
“This outbreak has really upset everyone.”
Prime Minister Li Keqiang promised in a conference call with other top officials on Saturday to support “as many employers as possible”, especially among small and medium-sized businesses, to keep people in work, state media reported.
The unemployment rate in China stood at 5.8% in March, the highest since May 2020, while it reached a record 6.0% in 31 major cities. Shanghai’s full lockdown in April and tighter restrictions elsewhere have further plagued the labor market since then.
Despite the costs, Chinese authorities are steadfast in their commitment to eradicate the coronavirus. Last week, authorities threatened to take action against critics of the zero-COVID policy.
Regular testing will become a part of everyday life in many cities, as officials hope it can help detect and isolate infections early enough to avoid mass closures and movement restrictions.
On Sunday, residents lined up for another round of testing in Beijing’s Chaoyang, Fangshan and Fengtai districts and small swathes of others. Inside a large Chaoyang complex, two people moved loud speakers blaring a repeated message to remind residents to be tested.
Many residents, even though they have not been subjected to the mass tests, are still required to show a recent negative result to start work or enter various locations.
Shanghai, which conducted 63 million PCR tests and 126 million rapid antigen tests last week, will also continue to conduct daily screening, city officials said.
Shanghai and other cities are also building thousands of permanent PCR testing stations.
Daily COVID cases in Beijing run into the dozens, much lower than those in Shanghai at this point of the outbreak, when infections were in the triple digits and on the rise.
Shanghai’s cases fell for a ninth day, data from Sunday showed, but remained in the thousands, sparking warnings against complacency from party and city officials.
(Reporting by Reuters Beijing and Shanghai bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by William Mallard)