China Locks Down 26 Million With Very Low Case Numbers

The staggered lockdown of China’s financial capital of Shanghai entered a new phase this week as the government extended the quarantine to cover all the city’s 26 million residents.

Tight restrictions were due to be lifted in western districts of the city, but instead have been extended for all of Shanghai until further notice. Officials responded to testing that saw asymptomatic COVID-19 cases top 16,000, though Tuesday’s symptomatic number was only 311.

The government faces an unusual situation as there is growing public expression of discontent and anger over the quarantine rules, something China does not often tolerate. Social media sites show comments and videos condemning the restrictions, and public officials are making concessions to the outcry.

In a briefing, health commission official Wu Qianyu reported “Shanghai’s epidemic prevention and control is at the most difficult and most critical stage.” Wu added that the policy of “dynamic clearance” must be adhered to “without hesitation, without wavering.” She insisted that one of the most controversial aspects of the government’s action, separating children who test positive from their parents, is “necessary” to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Wu said 62 temporary quarantine sites are set up in hotels, stadiums and exhibition centers. The government initially unveiled a targeted approach to contain the relatively small outbreak in the nation’s financial hub, but has now imposed much tougher restrictions.

In a rare about-face, the Chinese government announced Wednesday that it is making concessions to blunt the public outcry. After amending policy to allow COVID-positive parents to stay with their children in isolation centers, now parents of children with special requirements may apply to remain with them. The parents, besides having to apply to be with their children, must abide by other rules and sign a waiver acknowledging the risks.

The government also faces criticism for putting asymptomatic individuals in with those with symptoms. An online petition on China’s WeChat app calling for asymptomatic children to be allowed to isolate at home garnered over 1,000 signatures before disappearing from the platform.

A citywide swabbing effort tested over 25 million people in 24 hours. And while the Chinese government implements draconian measures to stem what so far has been a mild outbreak, the citizens are growing restless.