SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Several large Chinese cities including Shanghai are rolling out new mass testing or extending lockdowns on millions of residents to counter new clusters of COVID-19 infections, with some measures being criticised on the internet.
China has reported an average of around 390 local daily infections in the seven days ending on Sunday, higher than about 340 seven days earlier, according to Reuters calculations based on official data as of Monday.
While that is tiny compared with a resurgence in other parts of Asia, China is adamant about implementing its dynamic zero COVID policy of eliminating outbreaks as soon as they emerge. Previously when a flare-up became a major outbreak, local officials had been compelled to take tougher measures such as month-long lockdowns, even at the cost of economic growth.
Persistent outbreaks and more closures could add pressure on the world’s second-largest economy, which contracted sharply in the second quarter from the first after widespread COVID lockdowns jolted industrial production and consumer spending.
The commercial hub of Shanghai, yet to fully recover from the harsh two-month lockdown in spring and still reporting daily sporadic cases, plans to hold mass testing in many of its 16 districts and in some smaller areas where new infections had been reported recently, after similar testing last week.
“There is still an epidemic risk at the community level so far,” the city government said in a statement.
Shanghai reported more than a dozen new cases but none was found outside quarantined areas, local government data showed on Monday.
“I’m speechless,” said a Shanghai resident surnamed Wang, already subject to testing every weekend at her residential compound. “It sounds like a waste of resources that doesn’t address the real problem.”
The northern city of Tianjin, which launched multiple rounds of mass testing in recent months to curb earlier outbreaks, said on Monday it is again testing its more than 12 million residents, after two local infections were found.
In the northwestern city of Lanzhou, a lockdown in four major districts with around 3 million residents that started last week has been extended to July 24.
In the central Chinese city of Zhumadian, lockdowns for several million people in a few towns under its jurisdiction have been extended for a few days until Monday or Tuesday.
The southwestern city of Chengdu said on Monday it suspended various entertainment and cultural venues, widening such curbs over the weekend that had been limited to a few districts.
The capital Beijing, after a week of zero local infections, found two cases on Monday – one international flight crew member and the person’s roommate. Authorities have sealed affected buildings.
Authorities in the southern region of Guangxi said late on Sunday they removed two officials in the city of Beihai from their jobs for acting poorly in their COVID response.
Beihai, with a population of 1.9 million and currently clocking over 500 infections, has launched multiple rounds of mass testing and locked down some areas.
As of Sunday, over 2,000 tourists were stuck in the city.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, COVID control staffers broke down the locks of apartment doors without residents’ consent, stirring an outcry on social media over the weekend.
Authorities in one district in Guangzhou on Monday apologised to residents.
The issue was among the top trending topics on China’s Twitter-like social media Weibo.
“It’s too horrifying, too ridiculous,” wrote a Weibo user. “No humanity, no law.”
In the northeastern city of Changchun, subway passengers were told to wear N95 masks throughout their rides. Many cities including Beijing only mandate surgical masks.
Changchun has been clear of local cases since mid-May, while a smaller nearby town under its jurisdiction has reported fewer than 20 cases since July 15.
Jin Dong-yan, a virology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said N95 respirators are able to offer better protection than surgical masks during major outbreaks, but could be of low cost-efficiency in areas of low COVID risk.
“In a city without cases, N95 mask mandate would be painful and inconvenient.”
(This story corrects to show the two cases found in Beijing are not both local cases, clarifies Changchun case details, in paragraphs 13 and 22)
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Brenda Goh, Ryan Woo and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Muralikumar Anantharaman)
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