Shanghai will enter a lockdown for nine days after recording its highest number of COVID cases in two years.
The lockdown will be carried out in two stages: in the eastern half of the city until 1 April, and in the western half from 1 April until 5 April, to allow widespread testing.
It comes as China, which has maintained almost no COVID cases since mid-March 2020, has recorded several thousand cases in the last week.
China’s Zero COVID policy
China has pursued very strict COVID settings since early in the pandemic, including lockdowns where government officials distribute food and access to hospitals is limited.
Earlier this month, Sun Chunlan, Vice Premier and leader of China’s COVID response, said the zero COVID policy would continue “without hesitation” despite a growing number of outbreaks due to the Omicron variant. Top epidemiologist Zhang Wenhong was widely criticised last year for suggesting China would eventually have to “co-exist” with the virus.
High Deaths in Hong Kong
A severe outbreak in Hong Kong has hinted at the potential strain on China’s health system if COVID becomes widespread. Unlike Omicron outbreaks in many other countries, Hong Kong’s outbreak has had a very high number of deaths – it has set a new record for deaths per million people anywhere in the world during the pandemic. One reason is low vaccination rates among Hong Kong residents over 80. Another is that the Chinese-made vaccine, Sinovac, is less effective at preventing infection than mRNA vaccines.
Chinese Vaccination Rates Are Low for the Elderly
Mainland China is likely to experience a similar problem if it is unable to contain COVID. According to China’s National Health Commission, about half of Chinese residents over 80 have not received two doses of a COVID vaccine.