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China steps up anti-COVID measures in megacities as infections mount

China steps up anti-COVID measures in megacities as infections mount

A security guard in a protective suit stands guard in front of a gate, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shanghai, China, October 10, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song

BEIJING: Shanghai and other big Chinese cities, including Shenzhen, have ramped up testing for COVID-19 as infections rise, with some local authorities hastily closing schools, entertainment venues and tourist spots.

Infections have risen to the highest since August, with the uptick coming after increased domestic travel during the National Day "Golden Week" earlier this month.

Authorities reported 2,089 new local infections for Oct 10, the most since Aug 20.

While many of the cases were found in tourist destinations, including scenic spots in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, megacities that are often the source of well-heeled and well-travelled tourists have started to report more cases this week.

Shanghai, a city of 25 million people, reported 28 local cases for Oct 10, the fourth day of double-digit increases.

Keen to avoid a reprise of the economically and psychically scarring lockdown in April and May, Shanghai said late on Monday that all its 16 districts were to conduct routine testing at least twice a week until Nov 10. That's a step up from once a week, a regime imposed after last lockdown.

Checks on inbound travellers and in places such as hotels should also be strengthened, authorities said.

The expanding web of measures has already ensnared some.

Peter Lee, a long-time British expatriate, was out at lunch with his wife and seven-year-old son last week when he was notified his apartment block was to be locked down for 48 hours.

Lee and his son checked into a hotel, which was then also locked down due to a prior visit by a virus carrier. Lee's wife, who was planning to join them, had no choice but returned home to be locked in, and then had her lockdown extended.

Father and son are due to be released on Thursday, while Lee's wife won't be released until Sunday.

"It might be that we say, we miss home and we miss mum too much and maybe we just go home and just deal with it, but we also lose another weekend then," Lee told Reuters.

"We're monitoring the situation because it seems like Shanghai is gradually shutting down anyway and if everything starts to close then there won't be much benefit in being able to come and go."

"FINAL PRICE"

As of Monday, 36 Chinese cities were under various degrees of lockdown or control, with around 196.9 million people affected, up from 179.7 million in the previous week, according to Nomura.

In China's southern tech hub Shenzhen, where the highly transmissible BF.7 Omicron subvariant has recently been detected, local cases more than tripled to 33 on Oct 10 from one day earlier.

Inbound travellers will be subject to three tests over three days, authorities in the city of 18 million people said on Tuesday.

In the northwestern city of Xian, which reported just over 100 cases from Oct 1 to Oct 10, authorities abruptly suspended offline classes at schools on Tuesday and closed many public spaces, including the famous Terracotta Army Museum.

Daily shuttle buses ferrying tens of thousands of people to work in Beijing from nearby Tianjin and Hebei will be suspended from Wednesday due to the COVID-19 resurgence.

Despite China's very small caseload versus the rest of the world, and the toll its tough counter-epidemic policies exact on the economy and population, the government has repeatedly urged people to accept the measures.

"Once a large-scale rebound occurs, the epidemic will spread, and is bound to have a serious impact on economic and social development, and the final price will be higher and losses will be greater," state-controlled People's Daily wrote in a commentary on Tuesday.

The COVID-preventive steps come days ahead of a Communist Party congress starting on Oct 16 where Xi Jinping is expected to extend his leadership.

"The latest resurgence of draconian COVID-19 restrictions is likely to be temporary given the priority to keep things under control ahead of the all-important meeting," said analysts from US alternative asset management firm Clocktower Group.

"However, the People's Daily's tripling down on the zero-COVID-19 narrative is indeed a major concern, which suggests that a major policy recalibration may still be far away."

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Source: Reuters/rc/vc

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