Residents of eastern Shanghai who were hoping to emerge from a four-day Covid lockdown on Friday have been ordered to stay in their homes, with some facing another 10 days of isolation.
The new rules for Pudong, the half of Shanghai that sits on the east side of the Huangpu river, were announced late on Thursday night, just hours before the lockdown was supposed to end at 5am on Friday.
It is the latest sign that China’s largest city and economic powerhouse is struggling to eliminate an Omicron-driven outbreak which is the worst since the first one in early 2020 that devastated the city of Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province.
The city said on Friday morning that it had recorded 4,144 asymptomatic cases and 358 symptomatic cases on Thursday, compared with 5,298 and 355 the previous day.
It will fuel concerns about a slowdown in the Chinese economy already badly affected by a series of lockdowns across key industrial centres.
China’s manufacturing activity fell to a five-month low in March, a monthly survey showed on Thursday, as lockdowns and other restrictions forced factories to suspend production.
German automaker BMW’s plants in Shenyang, a north-eastern city in Liaoning province, has been closed for more than a week because of pandemic controls.
The slowdown in China’s economy has also caused the price of oil to fall as markets bet that the world’s number two economy will not require as much fuel.
Bill Bishop, the respected China observer, said on Thursday that the outbreak in Shanghai was causing concern amid reports in the Wall Street Journal that there had been deaths at a care facility in the city.
“The outbreak in Shanghai is getting worse, it looks likely lockdowns will be tightened and extended …” he wrote in his weekly newsletter.
“The case number data from Shanghai already look a little strange, if the officials are also covering up deaths then this could get really bad.”
The changes to the rules in Shanghai mean that anyone living in a building where a positive case has been found will be required to stay home for 10 more days. Residents of other buildings in the same residential compound will be confined for three more days.
People living in the surrounding neighbourhood of a positive case will face less restrictive limits. They may be allowed out to shop for necessities, but only for a limited time on certain days.
A lockdown of the western half of the city was due to begin as planned on Friday morning as Shanghai grapples with China’s strict zero-Covid policy of trying to eliminate the virus altogether.
About 16 million people will be tested during the lockdown in Puxi on the west side of the river in Shanghai. Residents are not allowed to leave their neighbourhoods or housing compounds during the four-day period, with groceries or meals delivered to their complexes.
Ma Chunlei, a senior Shanghai official, acknowledged shortcomings in the city’s response. Authorities have rushed to bolster food deliveries to the city after panic buying stripped store shelves of necessities.
“We didn’t prepare sufficiently enough,” Ma said. “We sincerely accept the criticisms from the public and are making efforts to improve it.”
There was some good news elsewhere in China when authorities announced the lifting of a citywide lockdown in the province that has been hardest hit.
Residents of Jilin will be able to move about freely starting Friday for the first time in more than three weeks, state broadcaster CCTV said, citing a city notice. They will be required to wear masks and, when indoors, stay 1 meter (3 feet) apart. Public gatherings in parks and squares are prohibited.
The spread of Covid-19 has been brought under control in Jilin but not in the rest of Jilin province, officials said at a news conference. Some progress has been made in Changchun, the provincial capital and an auto manufacturing hub that has been locked down since 11 March.
By far, most of the cases in the ongoing outbreak have been in Jilin province, which borders North Korea in China’s industrial northeast.
China on Thursday reported 8,559 new cases in the previous 24-hour period, of which 6,720 had no symptoms. The proportion of asymptomatic cases has been higher than in previous outbreaks, particularly in Shanghai. About 100 of the new cases were imported ones among people who had recently arrived from abroad.
With Associated Press