Authorities in China’s financial centre of Shanghai will start easing lockdown in some areas from Monday, despite reporting a record of more than 25,000 new COVID-19 infections, as they strive to get the city moving again after more than two weeks.
Shanghai has classed residential units into three risk categories, to allow those in areas with no positive cases during a two-week stretch to engage in “appropriate activity” in their neighbourhoods, city official Gu Honghui said.
“Each district will announce the specific names of the first batch (of communities) divided into the three types, and three subsequent lists will be announced in a timely manner,” he told a news briefing.
That promises relief for some of the city’s 25 million residents, many of whom struggled to find food and medicine after more than three weeks locked down in the battle on China’s biggest outbreak since coronavirus was first discovered in central Wuhan in late 2019.
One of the first districts to release its list was southwestern Jinshan, which posted the names of residential areas still in the high- and medium-risk categories in its official channel on messaging app Weibo.
Gu said Shanghai had divided the city into 7,624 areas that are still sealed off, a group of 2,460 now subject to “controls” after a week of no new infections, and 7,565 “prevention areas” that will be opened up after two weeks without a positive case.
Those living in “prevention areas”, though able to move around their neighbourhoods, must observe social distancing and could find themselves sealed off again if there are new infections, he said.
Shanghai would make “dynamic” adjustments to the new system, Gu added, vowing greater efforts to minimise the impact of curbs on ordinary people in China’s most populous city.
“We also hope all citizens and friends will continue to support and cooperate,” he said.
Some criticised the move as a big risk at a time when Shanghai’s caseload exceeds 25,000, however.
“I think the Shanghai government has a secret plan to infect the whole of the Chinese people,” said one poster on the Weibo platform, using the name “The Star Broke the Ice”.
Others said authorities had no choice.
“I think this is the Shanghai government admitting it cannot continue locking down while ensuring that its citizens don’t starve to death,” said another Weibo user, posting under the name Ruan Yi.
China’s strategy remains unchanged, however, with national health official Liang Wannian saying the “dynamic clearance” policy was still Shanghai’s “best option”.
It was misleading to view Omicron as “big flu”, and lowering China’s guard would expose its huge elderly population to risk, especially as the virus mutates, said Liang, the head of the National Health Commission’s working group on COVID-19.
“If we lie flat, the epidemic would just be a disaster for these kinds of vulnerable people,” the People’s Daily newspaper of the ruling Communist Party quoted Liang as saying on a visit to the eastern city.
Shanghai added 25,173 new asymptomatic infections on Sunday, up from 23,937 the previous day, although symptomatic cases edged down to 914 from 1,006.