Shanghai to try to ease 7-week virus lockdown in few days

BEIJING (AP) — Shanghai will try to reopen again within days of eliminating transmission of COVID-19 among the general population as an outbreak in China’s largest city subsides, an official said Friday.

The strict lockdown of the city, now in its seventh week but moved, lifted and tightened at times to the frustration of residents, is part of the ruling Communist Party’s “zero-COVID” goal that has exacted a growing economic toll. and that even the World Health Organization says it may be unsustainable.

The goal in Shanghai is to achieve “elimination in society,” meaning any new cases would only be in people who are already isolated, Vice Mayor Wu Qing told a news conference. That would allow an “orderly opening, limited (population) flow and differentiated management,” Wu said.

No exact date was given beyond the middle of the month, nor did Wu say how the reopening would happen, except that the city intends to gradually restore industrial production, education and medical services.

Shanghai officials have made similar assurances in the past, only to see restrictions return even as cases decline in the city of 25 million people.

Censors removed complaints about food shortages and other hardships and videos posted online showing people in Shanghai and other areas arguing with police.

Amid a much smaller outbreak in Beijing, more daily tests have been ordered, classes have been suspended, people have been ordered to work from home, restaurants are restricted to takeout, and many shops, tourist sites, banks and government offices closed.

Some residential communities are on lockdown and residents have been warned to avoid traveling between city districts.

Shanghai reported 2,096 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, all but 227 of them in people showing no symptoms. Beijing reported 50 cases, in line with recent daily totals.

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed as “irresponsible” the WHO’s doubts expressed earlier this week about continuing the “zero-COVID” approach that calls for strict lockdowns, mass testing and mandatory transfer to centralized quarantine centers. overcrowded with anyone who tests positive or is a close contact.

Experts have doubts about the continued use of the policy given that vaccines are widely available and it has hit growth in the world’s second-largest economy as well as global supply chains.

However, he has increasingly identified with China’s president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who is determined to maintain tight social control and bolster his and the party’s authority ahead of a key party congress later this month. this year.

Already highly limited rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and personal autonomy have been further curtailed in the name of fighting the pandemic. China’s borders have been largely closed for more than two years, and this week the government said it would tighten restrictions on outbound travel by Chinese citizens and increase scrutiny over passport issuance.

At a meeting last week, the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee leadership said it was committed to “resolutely fighting any attempt to distort, question or dismiss China’s anti-COVID policy.”

“Faced with growing uncertainties due to COVID-19, one thing remains certain: China will maintain its proactive zero-COVID policy that has proven to be pragmatic and effective,” the official Xinhua news agency said in an editorial on Thursday.

The outbreaks from China and the resulting restrictions have led to the cancellation or postponement of a number of events, most recently the Asian Games. originally scheduled for September in the city of Hangzhou, 177 kilometers (110 miles) west of Shanghai.

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