Shanghai Cases Surge as China Ramps Up “Zero-Tolerance” Policy to COVID-19 
Shanghai on 13 April registered 2,573 local COVID19 cases and 25,146 asymptomatic infections.
6,740 COVID19 patients were discharged from a makeshift hospital on 13 April.

China’s financial hub Shanghai continues to see rising COVID-19 cases despite the country’s attempts at a “no COVID” policy

The city reported over 27,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday, a new high, following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement a day earlier reinforcing the zero-tolerance approach to COVID. 

“Prevention and control work cannot be relaxed,” Xi said during a trip to the island province of Hainan, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Wednesday.

The policy has involved mass testing, long quarantines, and mostly closed borders. As of Monday, about 343 million people across 45 Chinese cities – accounting for 26% of China’s population and 40% of its economic output – were either under full or partial lockdowns, according to estimates by economists at the investment bank Nomura. 

But the wide curbs to stop the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant have led to logistical and supply chain disruptions that are taking economic toll on the country and its people, especially in Shanghai. 

Makeshift quarantine centers test Shanghai’s patience 

Shanghai’s current largest fangcang, or makeshift hospital, has set aside 900 beds to treat families with children under the age of 18 infected with COVID-19.

While China drums up support for its aggressive COVID strategies, Shanghai residents see their patience being tested amidst family separations and quarantine camps.

A video provided on Thursday to Reuters from inside one quarantine center showed people in camp beds separated by less than an arm’s length. An occupant has said that more than 200 people there shared four toilets, with no showers. 

Shanghai has converted multiple public venues to shelter hospitals – or fangcang – to house COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms. 

Children have also been attending online classes in these makeshift quarantine centers, as shown in a tweet from China state-affiliated media Sixth Tone. 

Once discharged, many former residents of these “shelter hospitals” have complained of difficulties ranging from post-recovery quarantine to securing food supplies to last the lockdown.

A Shanghai resident, last name Guo, told Sixth Tone that she waited for about four days to be transferred from a centralized quarantine facility to her home on Wednesday. 

“Medical staff told us we had met the criteria for being discharged, but had to wait for further notice, again and again … I grew anxious about testing positive again after hearing of a similar case,” Guo said. “Getting infected is actually nothing serious. But the chaos makes me feel exhausted.”

More than 20,000 recovered patients were released from six shelter hospitals managed by the city government over the past two days, authorities said Thursday.

According to China’s latest rules, those infected are allowed to be discharged from quarantine facilities or hospitals after they test negative for the virus in two consecutive tests, 24 hours apart. 

International community and local officials express concern for tightened measures 

Shanghai’s largest makeshift hospital, which can provides 50,000 beds, has been put into use to receive COVID-19 patients. The hospital was converted from the National Exhibition and Convention Center.

Shanghai’s lockdown has evoked a sharp response from the international community, as China stands in marked contrast with other parts of the world that are learning to live with the virus

Authorities had imposed a two-stage lockdown to encompass the entire city. 

“China is going to be left behind,” said Siva Yam, president of the Chicago-based U.S.-China Chamber of Commerce, to US-based media company Politico

“When you look at the United States and Europe, they are opening up, they have accepted the fact that the only way you can control [COVID] is to accept that it will [circulate] in the community.”

However, the Chinese government has continued to ramp up its “no COVID” messaging, with China’s official Xinhua news agency warning Thursday that the country’s medical system risked “breaking down” in the event of an even larger COVID outbreak. 

The state newspaper China Daily boasted last Saturday: “China to defeat Omicron again with dynamic zero-COVID policy” .

Officials and experts have expressed concern regarding tightening controls on the healthcare system, with one official close to China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention telling British newspaper Financial Times that the “zero-COVID policy” is no longer viable.

“From a medical standpoint, I don’t think the zero-COVID policy is viable any more. Shanghai is running out of medical professionals to measure test results and beds to accommodate patients.”

Image Credits: yelingxuan369/Twitter, Zhang Meifang/Twitter, Yin Sura/Twitter.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.