Shanghai detects new COVID-19 cases outside quarantined areas

Shanghai announced its first new COVID-19 cases outside quarantined areas in five days on Friday and imposed stricter curbs in two districts, but did not signal any change to the planned end of a prolonged city-wide lockdown on June 1.

The commercial hub of 25 million, now in its seventh week of lockdown, has been slowly allowing more people to leave their homes in recent days, with many residential compounds issuing passes for brief walks or trips to the supermarket.

But in a sign of the challenges of China’s “zero COVID” policy — which is at odds with the resumption of normal life in much of the rest of the world — authorities in Shanghai’s Qingpu said on Friday it had sealed off and disinfected several places and tested more than 250,000 residents after discovering three cases.

Another district, Hongkou, on Friday afternoon ordered all shops to shut and residents to stay home until at least Sunday, as it plans to carry out mass testing. It did not say why it had taken the action.

“Our district will carry out three consecutive rounds of PCR tests for everyone,” authorities in Hongkou, home to more than 750,000 people, said on the district’s official WeChat account.

“During this screening, all supermarkets [and] street-side shops must stop operations, everyone should not leave their homes.”

Gradual re-opening appears on course

Earlier on Friday, other Shanghai officials said steps in the gradual re-opening of Shanghai were going ahead, with suburban parks due to open from Sunday. Other parks could open from June if they met certain conditions, but leisure facilities in parks would remain closed.

Shanghai detects new COVID-19 cases outside quarantined areas
Two people are seen getting haircuts on a street in Shanghai, China, on Friday. (Aly Song/Reuters)

A plan to reopen four metro lines from Sunday also remained on track, the city government said.

Beijing, China’s capital of 22 million people, has struggled to end an outbreak since late April, despite significant curbs on movement, with many residents working from home and a range of shops and venues closed.

But its daily caseload has remained in the dozens rather than exploding like Shanghai’s did. Beijing reported 62 new COVID infections for May 19, up from 55 a day earlier.

In the capital’s biggest district, Chaoyang, a football pitch popular with children was chained shut, covered with coils of barbed wire and signs saying, “Temporarily closed during the epidemic.”

Nearby, young couples briefly perched together beside a canal, before security personnel approached with a loudspeaker with a message reminding people not to gather.

Broad economic decline during April

On Friday, Shanghai reported a broad economic decline in April, with many factories shut and consumers stuck at home. The city’s industrial output shrank 61.5 per cent from last year, the biggest monthly decline since 2011.

Shanghai detects new COVID-19 cases outside quarantined areas
A woman uses an automated teller machine at a reopened branch of Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank in Shanghai on Friday. (cnsphoto/Reuters)

Retail sales dropped 48.3 per cent, significantly steeper than the 11.1 per cent drop nationally, and property sales by floor area sank 88 per cent, according to a Reuters calculation.

Analysts at Gavekal Dragonomics estimate fewer than five per cent of Chinese cities are now reporting infections, down from a quarter in late March.

Many cities have set up municipal border controls, conduct frequent mass testing and monitor and isolate new infections, including through building lockdowns.

Shanghai detects new COVID-19 cases outside quarantined areas
Taken Thursday, this elevated photo shows a checkpoint on a street in Shanghai’s Jing’an district that is under a COVID-19 lockdown. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

“This new normal should allow manufacturing supply chains to gradually resume normal operation, but will continue to weigh on consumption, the services sector and small business,” Gavekal analysts wrote in a note.

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