Major cities lock down as Omicron breaks through China’s defenses

Science & Health

Shanghai and Shenzhen are among several major cities in China that have gone under lockdown as the nation hits a two-year high in new COVID-19 cases. What does this mean for the country’s COVID-zero policy?

red background people in hazmat suits and doorway blocked off with yellow tape
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

A few major cities in China have gone back under lockdown as the nation’s COVID cases hit two-year highs, forcing some firms to temporarily shutter their operations.

  • Shenzhen has placed its 17.5 million residents into lockdown until March 20 and will conduct three rounds of citywide mass testing.
  • Shanghai logged over 700 infections — 89% of them asymptomatic — since the first case in the current wave was reported on March 1. Schools have also reverted back to online learning and airports have canceled hundreds of flights as of Monday.
  • Shanghai authorities on Friday admitted that management loopholes at a quarantine hotel had led to the local outbreak.
  • Changchun and other cities in Jilin Province, which is about the same size as North Dakota, have also gone into lockdown, and the province’s entire population of 24 million has been barred from leaving or traveling between cities.
  • Foxconn and Toyota have suspended their operations in Shenzhen and Changchun to fight the spread of the virus.

Five new at-home antigen testing products have been approved by the National Medical Products Administration, raising the total number of self-testing kits in China to 10. The kits are now available on ecommerce platforms like JD.com and Meituan.

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What does this mean for COVID zero? Beijing has previously signaled that it might readjust the nation’s strict virus policy in the long term, after authorities cleared Pfizer’s COVID pill and epidemiologist and prominent health policy adviser Zēng Guāng 曾光 suggested a “Chinese-style” road map to living with COVID.

  • Though necessary, the current measures do “not mean that we will permanently adopt the strategy of lockdown and full testing,” the leading Shanghai-based epidemiologist Zhāng Wénhóng 张文宏 wrote on Weibo yesterday.
  • At the recently concluded Two Sessions, many officials hinted at a shift in COVID management. Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 said that the nation’s policy would react to the evolving nature of the pandemic and attempt to “ensure normal manufacturing and orderly living,” per the Washington Post.

Follow our coverage of the Shanghai lockdown.

Nadya Yeh