China locks down city of 9 million as virus ripples across country

As China’s “zero-Covid” approach is tested by an Omicron wave, the country’s industrial city of nine million people was shut down overnight and more than 4,000 viral cases were detected on Tuesday.

Late Monday, the city of Shenyang in the neighboring Liaoning province was ordered to lock down after health officials recorded 4,770 new cases across the country, the majority in the northeastern province of Jilin.

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In recent weeks, China has moved quickly to eliminate virus clusters, employing a mix of hyper-local lockdowns, mass testing, and citywide closures. On Saturday, it announced two Covid-19 deaths, the first in over a year.

As the government tries to combine the health issue with the requirements of the world’s second largest economy, authorities have warned that continued lockdowns pose a threat to growth.

Shenyang, an industrial hub that houses firms such as BMW, reported 47 new cases on Tuesday, as officials placed all housing compounds under “closed management” and banned people from exiting without a positive test result within 48 hours.

Last Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the need of “minimizing the impact” of the pandemic on China’s economy, while also urging officials to “stick to” the current zero-Covid stance.

The latest Omicron outbreak, however, has pushed Beijing’s viral strategy to its limits, forcing authorities to free up hospital beds from mild-symptom patients.

Some cities such as Shanghai have avoided a full lockdown and instead imposed a web of individual building lockdowns, even as new daily asymptomatic infections there spiral into the hundreds.

The first 10,000 pills of Pfizer’s oral Covid medication arrived on Sunday, according to Jilin province officials, marking the first time Paxlovid has been used in China.

Last Monday, the province announced stringent travel restrictions prohibiting citizens from leaving their cities and counties, and numerous localities have already confined residents to their homes.

Shenzhen, China’s southern tech hub, stated on Monday that it would lift its week-long lockdown “in a timely manner,” after partially relaxing regulations on Friday to reduce the impact of viral shutdowns on companies and ports.

Health officials last week revealed only around half of Chinese aged over 80 have been double-vaccinated, as the spectre of Hong Kong’s dire Covid mortality rates — mainly among the unvaccinated elderly — hangs over Beijing’s decision making.

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