SHANGHAI’S COVID-19 OUTBREAK is becoming a political and medical emergency.
The country’s financial and commercial hub is struggling to contain the mainland’s worst outbreak of infection since the initial one in Wuhan in early 2020.
Officials reported 8,000 new cases on Saturday, a new daily record, and more than 13,000 on Monday as mass testing got into fuller swing.
The city tried to avoid a total lockdown because of Shanghai’s economic importance, opting for a two-phase policy that started on March 28. That has failed to contain the outbreak and become chaotic.
The city’s hospitals, short of beds and medical services, have struggled to cope. The mass testing programme has experienced delays in getting results. Feeding 25 million people in lockdown is proving to be a logistical challenge.
Nationally, China has reported no new deaths from Covid-19, although unofficial reports of deaths in Shanghai have been circulating for some days.
As in Hong Kong, low and ineffective vaccination rates among the elderly appear to have exacerbated the situation. The Donghai Elderly Care Hospital in eastern Pudong has reportedly suffered a severe outbreak of infections.
A senior Party official, Ma Chunlei, has said Shanghai was not sufficiently well prepared for the outbreak, a rare public admission of shortcomings in a city regarded for its administrative competence.
This has prompted a mobilisation of external assistance not seen since the pandemic’s early days. Vice Premier and Politburo member Sun Chunlan, who oversaw the strict anti-Covid regime at the recent Beijing Winter Olympics, was sent to the city at the weekend to provide political and administrative direction.
She stressed ‘unswerving adherence’ to the zero-COVID approach and told the city’s officials to improve their quarantine management. She also told police to guarantee social order in lockeddown areas and treatment facilities, a hint perhaps that residents’ exasperation is boiling over beyond social media.
The People’s Liberation Army has now mobilised 2,000 personnel and other provinces sent 36,000 people to help the city.
The first lockdown, covering everyone east of the Huangpu River, which includes the financial centre in Pudong, has been extended. With phase two, covering the city’s western side, still in effect, the whole city is now locked down.
It is unclear how long that will last, but it will likely stay in place until the medical situation stabilises, perhaps another week or more.
Shanghai’s mild experiment in easing back from the zero-Covid policy has backfired. That will have economic ramifications for an already slowing economy and how any further big-city outbreaks are handled.
Even more, it will have political ramifications ahead of the Party Congress in the autumn that will depend on how the top officials of the influential Shanghai party come out of the medical crisis.
There will be a new raft of Politburo leaders to accompany President Xi Jinping’s likely third term, over which the Shanghai faction would expect to have some sway. Local Party secretary, Li Qiang, had been tipped as a possible replacement for Li Keqiang as premier. He will look like a less safe pair of hands now.