Strain of Shanghai’s COVID lockdown tests China’s zero tolerance resolve

Covid in shanghai

A month ago, China was contemplating how to transition from the “zero tolerance” COVID-19 policy that kept it largely infection-free during the pandemic. But a fast-spreading outbreak in the country’s financial center has shown just how distant that possibility rests.

Once heralded as a model for efficient COVID containment, Shanghai is in the throes of China’s biggest domestic outbreak, as the city has reported tens of thousands of new COVID cases this week. The infections — mostly asymptomatic and few compared with other countries — are testing the boundaries of China’s uncompromising restrictions, which stamped out the initial outbreak in Wuhan and virtually returned the country to normalcy.

Two years and several more transmissive variants later, the shortcomings of that strategy are being laid bare.

Severe lockdowns have crimped economic activity and prompted public anger over the personal repercussions of such extreme measures. That discontent is on display in Shanghai, where residents complain about dwindling food and medical resources and fears of separation from children or pets over a positive COVID test.

On the other hand, a relaxing of regulations would threaten vulnerable elderly populations, among whom vaccination rates lag behind the rest of the country. While Shanghai has not logged any deaths specifically due to COVID, some media outlets have reported that infection and death have quickly spread through the city’s largest care facility for the elderly.

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