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May 17 (Reuters) – Plans by COVID-hit Chinese cities to exit or avoid lockdown are more tense and uncertain than ever as the tracking of null cases grows longer, more arduous and complex, with the highly infectious Omicron variant requires faster and harder steps.
The lockdowns have prompted the World Health Organization chief to call China’s zero-COVID goal unsustainable, but China says its approach will protect the lives of its people and its economy in the long term.
Closing: 14th – 20th March
Number of cases: More than 1,000 from mid-February to late March
With a week of “slow life” in March, Shenzhen had one of the shortest lockdowns among COVID-hit cities of more than 10 million people.
The decision on citywide testing and mobility restrictions came as case numbers rebounded in mid-March following less disruptive measures in an outbreak that began in February.
From March 14-20, about 20 million residents underwent multiple rounds of testing and mostly stayed at home, with one member of each household being let out for essentials every few days. Buses and subways were closed and non-essential businesses were halted while work was conducted from home or sealed campuses.
It was softer than the harsh Wuhan lockdown of 2020 – residents could leave Shenzhen if they had negative PCR tests and private transport was not prohibited.
Shenzhen largely reached zero community cases after seven days of lockdown.
Lockdown: Gradual easing since the end of March
Number of cases: More than 600,000 since the beginning of March
Unlike Shenzhen’s rapid lockdown, Shanghai initially refrained from a blanket closure. For the first few weeks of the outbreak, the city of 25 million adhered to a “slicing and gridding” policy, alternating between sealing off residential areas and areas and conducting mass testing.
By the end of March, Shanghai was reporting thousands of new cases every day, leaving authorities with no choice but to lockdown the entire city in an unprecedented lockdown that has sparked anger at poor access to medical care and essentials, and fueled criticism of opaque information disclosures and dealt a serious blow to the city’s economy.
Shanghai began identifying areas with no infections for at least 14 days on April 11 and promised to allow its residents limited mobility, but many complained that in practice they were still confined to residential areas.
In mid-May, Shanghai said there had been no transmissions outside the quarantine areas and had resumed some face-to-face businesses. Full resumption is expected in June after two months of lockdown.
Number of cases: More than 1,000 since April 22
Beijing has avoided a Shanghai-style lockdown nearly a month after it erupted by acting quickly even when the number of cases was very small.
Three days after its outbreak, Beijing launched mass testing in its most populous district and immediately expanded it to most of its 21 million residents. It also blocked selected areas with infections.
As the number of cases in Beijing grew, some residents were advised not to cross county lines and work from home. Public transportation, taxi and ride-hailing services have been reduced.
Still, Beijing came close to keeping all residents indoors. It also didn’t limit how often people could go out to shop for essentials.
Lockdown: Started March 14, gradually easing since late April, mostly ending in May
Number of cases: More than 70,000 from March to May
Jilin, in northeast China, banned people from leaving the province or traveling between its cities on March 14 for nonessential reasons.
The large-scale travel restriction was the first since 2020, when cities in central Hubei province cut traffic routes following the emergence of COVID in Wuhan, capital of Hubei. Continue reading
In late April, daily cases in Jilin dropped from a few thousand to fewer than 100 on some days. Community infections hit zero on April 14.
Some border towns like Ruili, China’s gateway to Myanmar, and Manzhouli in the north have been hit repeatedly by outbreaks and lockdowns.
China has called for tougher measures in border cities, which are the first line of defense against imported infections.
Maguan, alongside Vietnam, lifted a lockdown this month after reaching zero cases in an outbreak of about 200 infections, but strict rules remained in place indefinitely in some areas, including bans on travel without permits.
Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo; Additional coverage by Beijing newsroom; Edited by Robert Birsel
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