Shanghai is the epicenter of the latest outbreak, reporting over 10,000 new cases daily. Authorities responded with a weeks-long city shutdown, confining nearly 25 million residents of the once-bustling financial center to their homes or neighbourhoods.
Meanwhile, officials in Beijing have launched mass exercises, closed schools and imposed targeted closures on some apartment buildings in an effort to rein in the infection. These measures have raised fears of a wider lockdown similar to the Shanghai lockdown.
Throughout the pandemic, China has adhered to a rigorous Covid eradication strategy that uses lockdowns, mass testing, quarantines, and border closures to contain the virus. But the arrival of the highly contagious variant Omicron has cast doubt on the sustainability of that strategy, with the virus spreading to various cities and counties faster than the government can contain.
Authorities are now imposing full or partial lockdowns in at least 27 cities across the country, with those restrictions affecting up to 165 million people, according to CNN calculations.
Here’s what you need to know about the Covid situation in China.
Where are the closures and restrictions?
Cases in China began rising in March, quickly escalating into the country’s worst outbreak since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020.
Northeastern Jilin Province was hit hard during the early stages of the outbreak. put the authorities The provincial capital Changchun, an industrial center, is under a strict city-wide lockdown on March 11, and neighboring Jilin City sued on March 21.
On Thursday, authorities in Changchun and Jilin, which have a combined population of more than 13.5 million, said they would soon begin easing lockdowns gradually – although it remains unclear what that process will look like, or under what circumstances people will look like. They are allowed to leave their homes.
Authorities also closed several other cities, including the main economic hub of Shenzhen, in March – although some of those measures have since been lifted.
Shanghai, which has recorded more than half a million cases since March 1, introduced a phased lockdown in late March. This extended to a full citywide shutdown by the end of the month.
Shanghai authorities said on Wednesday that some neighborhoods could start easing lockdown measures if they had not reported any cases in the past two weeks – but it’s poor freedom, with the threat of re-imposing the lockdown if a single local case is discovered.
In Beijing, the mass testing campaign covered nearly 20 million residents – about 90% of the city’s population. Another round of citywide testing is planned From 27 to 30 April.
Targeted lockdowns in Beijing’s Chaoyang District this week prevented residents of 13 buildings from leaving their apartments, and residents of 33 other buildings from leaving their apartment complexes.
The capital closed schools in several of its most populous neighborhoods on Thursday. Several major hospitals have also announced their closures, and an increasing number of entertainment venues including cinemas have been ordered to close.
Full or region-wide lockdowns are in place in more than two dozen cities across various provinces, including Hangzhou, which is home to 12.2 million people; Suzhou, home to 12.7 million people; Harbin, home to 9.5 million people and more.
What is life like under lockdown?
Much of Shanghai’s lockdown has been chaotic and dysfunctional – raising alarm in other cities This fear could be next.
Many residents complained of lack of food, lack of access to medical services, poor conditions in makeshift quarantine camps, and harsh measures such as authorities separating infected children from their parents.
In March, an off-duty nurse died in Shanghai after being removed from the emergency ward of her hospital, which had been closed due to disinfection. In early April, a health worker beat a pet dog to death after its owner tested positive for Covid, the killing caught on camera. Last week, workers reportedly broke down the door of a 92-year-old woman’s home in the early hours of the morning to force her in quarantine.
These stories and many more spread on Chinese social media, sparking a rare outcry on the internet.
These incidents – particularly in Shanghai, which has long been considered the most modern and cosmopolitan city in China – have put people elsewhere on high alert.
Although Beijing has yet to restrict the movement of people outside designated high-risk areas, many residents – fearing a broader lockdown is on the cards – began panic-buying this week, forming long lines at supermarket checkouts and emptying shelves.
What is the economic cost?
Lockdowns and restrictions have dealt a huge blow to activity – particularly in economically important cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The unemployment rate hit a 21-month high in March. Several companies have had to suspend operations at several locations, including carmakers Volkswagen, Tesla and the iPhone Pegatron conglomerate. China’s currency, the yuan, has fallen rapidly this week, plunging to its lowest level since November 2020.
Jörg Woetke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said earlier this month that the Chinese government was “painfully aware of the damage to the economy”. He cited a private meeting with a Chinese ministry, but declined to name the agency.
“They are worried about unemployment,” he added. “They are worried about foreign companies putting money elsewhere.”
Why is China sticking to zero covid?
In spite of Rise of anger In the chaotic lockdowns, and the death toll that remained relatively low until the recent outbreak, authorities and state-run media indicated that China’s no-spreading coronavirus policy would not change any time soon.
The dire situation in Shanghai “highlights the need to uphold the dynamic zero-Covid policy,” the national tabloid, Global Times, said on Wednesday.
“If Shanghai, which has the best medical system in the country, is in dire need of help with the rising numbers of severe cases, who will be there to provide assistance if other parts of China also have to fight the onslaught of the coronavirus?”
There are a few reasons why China sticks firmly to the “zero COVID” issue. Several Chinese leaders and scientists have expressed concern that easing restrictions could allow the virus to spread across the country, potentially causing a spike in infections and deaths, and flooding the health care system — especially given the late vaccination rates among the elderly.
While China has focused its vast resources on developing and manufacturing homemade vaccines, it has failed to ensure that those vaccines reach the elderly. Now, that authorities have endorsed expectations that the country’s death rates will remain low, they have no choice but to rely on lockdowns to protect the vulnerable.
There is also a political component, as Xi has firmly put his personal stamp on zero-Covid policy throughout the pandemic. The central government has repeatedly pointed to the low official death toll as evidence of the effectiveness of its strategy, and to harden its claims to supremacy over Western governments.
Xi has personally reiterated his support for “zero-Covid” throughout the epidemic, claiming last year that it demonstrated China’s commitment to saving “every human life” — making the stakes particularly high as the government now struggles to simultaneously contain the virus, keeping the faltering in check. economy and quell public discontent.
And for Xi, it comes at a particularly sensitive time, months before his expected step into an almost unprecedented third term in power this fall.