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Shanghai outbreak poses big test for Xi Jinping’s Covid-zero policy – Financial Times

Shanghai has announced a four-day lockdown of its financial district and nine other areas beginning on Monday morning, as President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid strategy enters a pivotal week.

Shanghai has been attempting to rein in an outbreak of largely asymptomatic cases without resorting to the city-wide — and often weeks-long — lockdowns routinely employed across the rest of China.

In a statement on Sunday night, the Shanghai municipal government said the Pudong financial district and nine other areas east of the Huangpu river would be locked down starting at 5am on Monday for mass testing. People in the affected areas will have to stay at home and public transport will be suspended until April 1.

The coronavirus curbs will be applied to Puxi, west of the Huangpu river where Shanghai’s main shopping and entertainment areas are located, from April 1 to April 5.

Shanghai’s Covid-19 control task force said the measures were necessary to “curb the spread of Covid, protect people’s lives, safety and health, as well as achieve zero-Covid”.

Under China’s strict zero-Covid protocols, anyone testing positive is sent to hospital and their close contacts are often required to report to centralised monitoring facilities.

Wang Jia, a bond trader in Pudong, said “the situation is getting out of control” as officials struggled to quarantine the growing number of people testing positive. “There are so many infections that some people in my neighbourhood were told to conduct home quarantine after testing positive for Covid,” she added.

Other residents reported last-minute shopping sprees on Sunday night. People living in affected areas will have to rely on grocery and food deliveries once their four-day lockdowns begin.

Pudong is best known for the towering skyline emblematic of China’s rapid rise as a global economic and financial power. It is home to attractions such as Shanghai Disneyland, manufacturing facilities and one of the city’s two main airports. Municipal officials and state media said companies would have to allow employees to work from home or implement “closed-door” operations, in which workers live on site in isolated “bubbles”.

The Shanghai stock exchange said it would work to ensure normal operations of the country’s capital markets.

Earlier on Sunday, Chinese health authorities said 5,702 new cases had been discovered the previous day, about 80 per cent of them asymptomatic. Shanghai, with a population of 26mn, reported 2,631 asymptomatic cases, accounting for about 60 per cent of China’s asymptomatic total.

In their effort to control the outbreak, Shanghai officials had previously tried to implement targeted lockdowns of relatively small districts while urging residents to self-diagnose with recently approved rapid antigen tests.

Sunday night’s announcement came just a day after a member of Shanghai’s Covid-19 task force said that calls for a relatively brief city-wide lockdown of three to seven days were misguided because of the “important role [we play] in national economic and social development”.

“If the city came to a complete stop, there would be a lot of international cargo floating on the East China Sea, which would have a big impact on the national and global economy,” Wu Fan said at a briefing on Saturday.

Xi’s zero-Covid strategy has so far failed only in one city — Hong Kong, which recently backed down from plans to conduct mass tests of its 7.4mn residents and isolate all positive cases in newly built quarantine facilities.

The semi-autonomous territory has been overwhelmed by its current outbreak, which accounts for the vast majority of its 1.1mn Covid cases and almost 7,000 related deaths since the pandemic first broke out in central China in January 2020.

While Xi has recently said that China should minimise disruptions to the economy to “pay the lowest price” while pursuing zero-Covid, his administration has refused to alter course fundamentally. As a result, the world’s most populous country has been effectively sealed off from the rest of the world for more than two years.

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