Coronavirus: strict Covid-19 regime to remain intact in Shanghai as new cases persist outside quarantine zones, delaying production restart

·4-min read

Shanghai will remain under strict antivirus measures after new data released on Thursday morning showed 34 new cases in non-quarantined areas in the past 24 hours.

Wang Hesheng, vice-minister of the National Health Commission, told a meeting of local officials on Wednesday evening that hidden transmission chains were still an “enemy within” as the mainland’s commercial and financial capital battled against the outbreak amid a citywide lockdown in place since April 1.

“The biggest consensus is that determined efforts must be made to avoid a rebound in new cases,” he said, according to Shanghai Television. “When a new case is detected in a precautionary zone, or in a hospital or among the certain high-risk people, tracking and tracing must be conducted swiftly.”

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On Tuesday night, the municipal government issued revised guidelines asking companies – including restaurants and shops – that are ready to comply with virus-control rules to apply to resume business. This raised hopes that more manufacturers could restart production lines.

A resident sits behind a locked gate at a neighbourhood in Shanghai on May 3, 2022. Photo: Bloomberg
A resident sits behind a locked gate at a neighbourhood in Shanghai on May 3, 2022. Photo: Bloomberg

However, Wang’s statement “was a sign that the local government would let only a tiny number of small businesses reopen their businesses in the coming one or two weeks,” said Eric Han, senior manager at Shanghai-based business ­advisory firm Suolei.

The 34 new cases in the precautionary zones represented progress, compared with 63 such cases reported a day earlier. Total new cases across the city fell for the 12th consecutive day, dropping 6.6 per cent to 4,651 – the lowest total since April 1. Symptomatic cases inched up 0.4 per cent to 261, and 13 patients died. Cumulative cases since the outbreak started in the city on March 1 topped 592,000.

Shanghai to add another 1,188 firms to white list as Covid-19 cases stabilise

The municipal government remains firmly committed to bringing new cases to zero in the unguarded or precautionary zones to achieve its ‘societal zero-Covid’ scenario, with infections limited to people already in quarantine.

On Monday, the municipal government announced that it would gradually ease the lockdown that began on April 1, allowing people living in certain precautionary zones to venture out on to the streets. But few people have been permitted to do so as local authorities remain wary of a resurgence of the outbreak.

On April 16, the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Information Technology gave the green light to 666 key manufacturers, including Tesla and chip maker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp to restart operations in closed-loop mode, where employees sleep on-site or nearby to avoid contact with outsiders. Over the weekend, the local government allowed another 1,188 manufacturers to resume production.

On Tuesday night, the municipal government issued revised guidelines on production resumption, under which more companies that are ready to comply with virus-control rules can apply to reopen their businesses.

Zhang Hongtao, chief engineer at the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Information Technology, told a press briefing on Thursday that local regulators will strictly review the applications, reiterating that “closed loops” must be set up to ensure safety of the production sites.

“Local authorities, relevant regulators, companies and workers will all have to take responsibilities in business operations,” he said. “Companies’ detailed virus prevention plans and their methods to manage the ‘closed loops’ will be strictly vetted by authorities before the green light is given.”

The rules also stipulate that employees must be tested twice a day for Covid-19 – a rapid antigen test in the morning and a nucleic acid test in the evening.

“I think companies are ready to help, ready to support and ready to engage in whatever is required by authorities to make work resumption possible,” said Denis Depoux, global managing director of consulting firm Roland Berger. “But we need predictability because what is killing the businesses is the uncertainty.”

Nationwide, 5,038 new cases were discovered in the last 24 hours, 8.2 per cent fewer than a day earlier, according to data released on Thursday.

On Thursday evening, the Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said 22 new infections had been discovered, taking the total to 544 since the Omicron variant surfaced in the capital on April 22.

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