Covid cases in Shanghai hit their highest level yet as authorities in the locked-down city stepped up their battle to suppress China’s worst outbreak in two years.
Shanghai, which is sealed off from the rest of the country as part of the most severe citywide measures since the virus emerged in Wuhan, reported 24,952 new cases on Sunday.
The protracted lockdown of Shanghai, China’s largest city and its leading financial hub, is the biggest test yet of Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy, which aims to eliminate the virus through restrictions on movement, mass testing and centralised quarantine of patients.
Sunday’s figures, which refer to cases from the previous day, came after authorities in the city announced a new round of mass testing at a time when most of its 26mn residents remain confined to their homes with an uncertain release date. Complaints over access to food have circulated widely on social media.
Zong Ming, deputy mayor of Shanghai, said lockdowns of communities would be lifted if they reported no positive cases for 14 days.
After weeks of locking down individual buildings, the city began a two-stage lockdown on March 28. Initially supposed to last for four days in each half of the city, it has since been extended.
China’s strategy has successfully limited the virus’ spread for most of the past two years, according to official data, but an outbreak of the highly-infectious Omicron variant in Shanghai is now testing its efficacy. Despite the high economic and social costs, the Beijing government has reaffirmed its commitment to the approach.
Shanghai accounts for the vast majority of Sunday’s reported total of 26,462 cases across the country.
Official data states that 95 per cent of cases were asymptomatic, which China treats as a separate category.
In response to Omicron, officials have pushed to stop the spread of the virus earlier.
Guangzhou, another of China’s largest cities with a population of 18mn, reported two new confirmed cases as of Saturday morning and will also begin mass testing, state media said.
Last week, analysts at Nomura estimated nearly 200m people across 23 Chinese cities were subject to partial or full lockdowns.
Unreliable deliveries of government food packages and difficulties in securing orders through overwhelmed shopping apps have encouraged residents in Shanghai to organise group buying directly from suppliers.
Lucy Lu, a 41-year-old resident of Shanghai, said she and her parents had been under full lockdown since March 19 and had only received one food package distributed by local officials in the past 20 days. She organised a chat group to buy milk but had to cancel the order after the neighbourhood committee refused to help with couriers, citing infection risks.
The city has constructed vast quarantine centres for asymptomatic patients. On Friday the US government warned against travel to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Jilin, another city with a recent outbreak, because of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws and Covid-19 related restrictions”.
China’s ramping up of its zero-Covid policies comes at a precarious moment for its economy, which is grappling with the impact of a liquidity crisis across its real estate sector.