December 2, 2023

BEIJING – Residents of parts of Shanghai and Beijing have been ordered to undergo further rounds of Covid-19 testing after new cases were discovered in the two cities, while tighter restrictions remain in place in Hong Kong, Macau and other Chinese cities.

Shanghai has just emerged from a strict lockdown that has confined most of its 24 million residents to their homes for weeks, and new requirements have raised fears of a return to such draconian measures.

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The latest outbreak in China’s largest city, a major international business hub, has been linked to a karaoke parlor that failed to implement prevention measures among employees and customers, including tracing others who had contact with them, according to the city’s health commission. The city’s Department of Culture and Tourism said all of these outlets have been ordered to temporarily suspend their operations.

Shanghai’s lockdown has sparked extraordinary protests both in person and online against the government’s strict enforcement, leaving many residents struggling to access food and medical services and sending thousands to quarantine centres.

Beijing has also seen a recent outbreak linked to nightlife venues. It has been conducting regular testing for weeks, and at least one apartment complex in the suburb of Shawnee, populated by many foreign residents, has been closed off with a steel fence installed above its entrance to prevent residents from leaving.

Residents of parts of Shanghai and Beijing have been ordered to undergo additional rounds of testing after new cases were discovered in the two cities.Mark Schiefelbein / AP

Enforcement in the Chinese capital has been much more moderate than in Shanghai, although officials continue to require regular screening and prevention measures.

In the northern city of Xi’an, whose 13 million residents have suffered one of the strictest lockdowns in China during the winter, restaurants have been restricted to takeout only and public entertainment venues closed for a week from Wednesday.

A notice on the city government’s website said the measures were only temporary and aimed at preventing the chance of a new outbreak. She said supermarkets, offices, public transport and other facilities were continuing to operate as usual, with routine screening including temperature checks and people being asked to show an application that proves infection-free.

Meanwhile, Macau’s gambling center has closed the famous Grand Lisboa Hotel after cases were discovered there. More than a dozen residential and commercial centers in China’s special administrative region of about 650,000 people have been designated “red zones,” with access restricted almost exclusively to emergency workers.

The authorities have ordered the closure of most establishments except for casinos, which are the main source of income in Macau and among the largest employers in the city.

City residents will have to take three citywide Covid-19 tests this week. The local outbreak is the largest in Macau since the epidemic began, with more than 900 infections reported since mid-June.

COVID-19 testing in Macau
People line up for Covid tests in the Chinese province of Macau on June 19, 2022. VCG / via Getty Images

Neighboring Hong Kong has also seen a rising trend of coronavirus infections since mid-June. In the past seven days, the average daily infections reported have been around 2,000 per day.

The city’s new leader, John Lee, said on Wednesday that Hong Kong must not “lay down” when it comes to Covid-19, rejecting the “live with coronavirus” mentality espoused by most of the world.

His comments reflect the sentiments of the Chinese authorities, who have stuck to a “zero Covid” policy that has become closely associated with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

However, Lee said Hong Kong authorities are exploring options, including shortening the duration of mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers. Currently, travelers must test negative for coronavirus prior to travel and quarantine for seven days in designated hotels upon arrival.

The city, formerly known as a busy commercial and international financial center, has seen tourism and business travel paralyzed due to strict entry restrictions.

The strict measures have remained in place despite the relatively low number of cases and serious negative effects on the Chinese economy and global supply chains.

Mainland China reported 353 cases of local transmission on Wednesday, 241 of which were asymptomatic.

Shanghai has reported only 24 cases in the past 24 hours, and five are in Beijing. Anhui announced 222 cases in what appeared to be the latest cluster, prompting the inland county to order mass testing and travel restrictions in C County, where the bulk of the cases have been reported.

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