The introduction of Covid restrictions across Shanghai has fueled fears the city is heading for another lockdown as Chinese authorities seek to contain cases while maintaining a sense of stability ahead of a major political meeting on Sunday.
Shanghai residents, who endured a grueling two-month lockdown earlier this year, reported this week that many schools were switching to online classes and sudden early lockdowns across the city. At least 46 buildings or residential neighborhoods were classified as medium risk and one as high risk, in 14 of Shanghai’s 16 districts, local media reported. Several districts have also closed entertainment and sports venues and all new arrivals must be tested within 24 hours, authorities said on Sunday.
The city government has said no mass school closings or lockdowns are imminent, but word-of-mouth reports of small local restrictions, the erection of fences and premature lockdowns that trap people at home or in other buildings have raised concern. On social media, some residents complained of fire pits being locked and pets left unattended after owners were quarantined. Others shared information about previously unreported store and building lockdowns.
Shanghai recorded just three locally transmitted cases and 44 asymptomatic cases on Wednesday. All tested positive while already in central quarantine facilities and added to a total of 1,173 cases, 83% of them asymptomatic, since July.
As of Monday, China’s health commission reported about 1,120 confirmed cases and 4,202 asymptomatic cases. The majority were recorded in Xinjiang, which has been under strict restrictions in recent months.
At least 36 Chinese cities in 31 provinces were placed under varying degrees of quarantine or control this week, affecting about 197 million people, according to the monitors.
Across China, some people were prevented from returning to Beijing after the Golden Week holiday with notices warning that “time and space may be related to the risk of an epidemic”. The blocks prompted speculation that the risk of an outbreak was to be reduced in Beijing during a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party congress this weekend.
Other Chinese cities have increased testing, closed tourist sites and halted public transport. Shenzhen, which reported 33 cases on Wednesday, ordered daily tests for all arrivals for three days, while Beijing suspended shuttle buses carrying tens of thousands of workers from Tianjin and Hebei.
In Zhengzhou City, Henan, where 12 cases were reported, all residents must be tested every 24 hours to take public transportation or enter public places, and in Guangzhou, where 10 cases were reported, authorities began mass testing and partial lockdown of at least one region.
China’s case numbers are low by global standards, but the government is committed to a “potential zeroing” strategy to contain and eliminate any outbreak. The policy has been successful for much of the pandemic, but has been challenged by the high transmissibility of newer strains, and the threat of sudden lockdowns and travel restrictions has begun to unnerve citizens.
“Is there anyone more unlucky than I?” said a person who recently arrived in Zhengzhou. “I’ve experienced the Xi’an lockdown, the Shanghai lockdown, and now it’s Zhengzhou, please!”
In consecutive days of coverage this week, state media advocated the need for all citizens to adhere to the policy, saying it was the only way to avoid massive loss of life and a drain on medical resources. The article was widely shared with hundreds of millions of views, but thousands of comments were censored, prompting some readers to joke that “potential zero” was being applied to comment sections.