Zero-Covid China drafts in the military as Shanghai ordered to test 25 million residents for Covid

The city, which is dealing with a record number of daily Covid cases, has become the biggest — and potentially costliest — example of China’s insistence on adhering to its strict phase-out strategy.

On Sunday, the ruling Communist Party announced the deployment of thousands of military personnel to the closed financial center to help in the mandatory assessment of the 25 million inhabitants.

The plan, which will see all residents take a nucleic acid test starting Monday morning, comes as Shanghai reported a city record of more than 9,000 cases on Sunday.

Although the number of cases is small by international standards, the fast-spreading outbreak has put Shanghai on the front line of China’s uncompromising battle against the virus, as the government doubles down on testing, mandatory lockdowns and controversial policies. of isolation who have seen young children separated from their parents if they test positive.

Enforcing these measures, while trying to meet the needs of a locked-down population, has pushed officials into a position of war. In recent days, more than 30,000 doctors have been sent to the city, according to state media. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also deployed more than 2,000 military medical workers to Shanghai on Sunday, according to the PLA Official Gazette.

Political pressure has mounted on Shanghai authorities to quell the outbreak and address the growing chorus of concerns from residents grappling with the costs and inconveniences of strict measures.

For weeks, the city has been rocked by social and economic dysfunction, with financial workers forced to sleep in their offices, major delays at ports increasing pressure on supply chains, and residents on lockdown desperately seeking medical care and other basic supplies.

But if residents had hoped the measures would ease soon, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan’s arrival in the city over the weekend left little doubt about Beijing’s position.

Sun, who spearheaded Covid-19 control efforts during the pandemic, stressed on Sunday that Shanghai must adhere to China’s zero-Covid policy without “hesitation or hesitation,” citing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s instructions to eliminate the virus. virus and win the “close battle” against the pandemic.

China’s health authorities have repeatedly warned of the potential for health systems to be overwhelmed if the virus spreads widely among the population of 1.4 billion, especially due to delayed vaccinations among the elderly, and have left it in doubt. It is clear that the control of covid is a “primary political mission”.

Young children separated from their parents

City authorities acknowledged shortcomings in their response last week, with Ma Chunlei, general secretary of the Shanghai municipal people’s government, apologizing on Thursday for not being “sufficiently prepared” for the outbreak.

In recent days, residents have continued to take to social media to describe challenges in accessing products, including waking up early in the morning in an attempt to order limited supplies.

“We don’t have anything now: oil, rice, all sorts of things. It’s too hard. I set an alarm at 6am but still can’t get rice,” one user wrote below a social media post describing the situation in his Shanghai district, where authorities later said they would deliver supplies.

Fresh outrage over isolation measures sparked over the weekend after photos surfaced allegedly showing an overcrowded and understaffed Shanghai hospital ward for children with Covid-19 who had been separated from their families due to the measures. of isolation.

The Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center later clarified in a statement that the photos were not from the COVID-19 pediatric isolation ward, but were taken when the hospital was transferring the regular pediatric ward to the outpatient and emergency building. , where “more pediatric patients”. medical personnel have been deployed.

But the policy itself, which requires all patients who test positive to be isolated at the facility, including young children and infants, has caused significant levels of distress among parents.

A mother surnamed Zhu told CNN that her 2-year-old daughter tested positive on March 26 and was separated from her and sent to the clinic on March 29, after which she received little information about her daughter other than status updates. it was in good condition. Health.

“This disease does not require advanced medical skills, all it needs is care and companionship,” Zhu wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo social media platform.

Only after repeated attempts was Zhu, who was also confirmed to have COVID-19, allowed to enter the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and stay with his daughter on Monday, Zhu told CNN.

Addressing the concerns at a news conference on Monday, Shanghai officials said if the parents of the infected children are also positive, they can stay together and receive medical observation and treatment, but children under the age of seven still need to be sent. to Shanghai Public Health Clinical. Pediatric treatment center.

End in sight?

Now, as mass city-wide testing is rolled out and most of the city remains in lockdown, the looming question is when Shanghai will be able to loosen restrictions.

The city’s economy has been hit by the restrictions, as travel delays mount. The city is China’s financial capital, as well as being home to the world’s busiest container port, and the government will be wary of the potential long-term implications of a prolonged closure.

But the number of cases has not yet decreased in the city, and a similar situation is occurring in the northern province of Jilin, which began taking more stringent disease control measures in early March. The outbreaks, China’s largest in more than two years, mark the first time the country’s control measures have been tested against Omicron’s highly transmissible subvariant BA.2.

The challenges have some residents reminiscing about two years ago in Wuhan, when China battled its first Covid-19 outbreak. The city remained under various forms of lockdown for a period of months and medical workers from all over the country arrived to help.

“It’s been (two years since Wuhan) and everything has changed, but it seems like nothing has changed,” one social media user wrote in a popular comment on Weibo, noting the arrival of doctors from Wuhan in Shanghai. “I cry when I see the support from Wuhan.”

CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

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