Coronavirus cases in China are reaching record highs, leading officials in China’s financial hub Shanghai to make the snap decision on Sunday evening to lock down the city of around 26 million people. For weeks, officials denied they would be instituting shutdowns in response to rising cases.
But this month, the spread of the ultra-transmissible variant of omicron led to the biggest increase in cases in China in the pandemic, and Shanghai recorded some of the highest numbers. On Sunday, the country reported more than 6,000 new cases, including 3,500 in Shanghai. According to New York Times data tracking, the number of new daily cases has increased by 233% in the past 14 days. The current number of cases is the highest yet for the country, which saw its previous peak in February 2020 when new cases hit just over 3,000 a day.
From March 28, Shanghai residents on the east side of the Huangpu River began a four-day campaign of home confinement and mass testing. From April 1 to 5, people on the west side will lock down and test in turn. Officials aim to test the entire population during the sequential lockdowns, sending health workers in white hazmat suits to residents’ front doors.
According to Reuters journalists in Shanghai, city officials closed bridges and tunnels today and restricted traffic on highways. As easterners are locked down, westerners have rushed to buy food and other basics. Supermarkets reportedly ran out of supplies and delivery services were overwhelmed. Deliveries from out of town are left at checkpoints to avoid contact with the outside world, the Associated Press reported. Non-essential businesses and public transport are all closed.
Although the vast majority of cases detected so far in Shanghai are apparently asymptomatic, health officials are particularly concerned about the spread of the virus. China has relatively low vaccination rates among its elderly population, which is most vulnerable to serious illnesses. In addition, domestic vaccines used in China are less effective than those used in the West. Some fear that China will experience the same extremely high death rates seen during a recent spike in cases in Hong Kong, which also relied on Chinese vaccines and had relatively low vaccination rates among the elderly.
In an interview todayformer FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb echoed that concern, saying, “When you don’t vaccinate your elderly population – the most vulnerable people in your society – you end up having very significant impacts of the spread of this virus. And that is, in fact, the risk that China is facing right now.”