China orders millions in Shanghai to shelter in place as COVID cases surge

Shanghai is under lockdown Friday, as COVID cases continue to surge in China’s financial capital. It is the most severe measure by the Chinese government to isolate and tract infections since it shut down the city of Wuhan after the virus broke out in 2020. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have reported, the city of Shanghai is under lockdown today, as COVID cases continue to surge in China's financial capital.

    As William Brangham reports, it is the most severe measure by the Chinese government to isolate and track infections since it shut down the city of Wuhan after the virus broke out in 2021.

  • William Brangham:

    One of the busiest cities in the world has gone quiet. Today begins the second phase in a two-part lockdown across Shanghai, after a wave of new infections erupted likely driven by the highly contagious subvariant of Omicron, known as BA.2.

    Summer Wen is an interpreter who lives in West Shanghai.

  • Summer Wen, Shanghai Resident:

    We are not allowed to get out, and I have just to get my test today, this afternoon. And so far, for me, of course, it is inconvenient, but, still, I fell it is dealable.

  • William Brangham:

    The first phase of the shutdown began Sunday, centering on the financial district and surrounding areas.

    In the past week, many communities have seen these yellow and blue plastic barriers go up around housing complexes. Residents are required to submit to multiple COVID tests, and workers in hazmat suits man various checkpoints. Almost no one is allowed to leave their designated zone, not for work, not for medical care, nothing.

    Police in Shanghai flew drones outfitted with speakers, delivering airborne warnings to those below to wear masks and maintain social distancing. In anticipation of the lockdown, last weekend, there was panic buying at grocery stores. But some residents said they were hopeful the lockdowns wouldn't go on too long.

  • Jo He, Shanghai Resident (through translator):

    With one adjective, I think we should be calm and face this with a positive attitude, and then allow this epidemic to pass over as soon as possible.

  • Marek Narozniak, Shanghai Resident:

    I still have some cereals left.

  • William Brangham:

    Others, like Ph.D. student Marek Narozniak, who's from Poland, said the measures were chaotic and were launched with little notice.

  • Marek Narozniak:

    I just woke up and my compound was surrounded with the fence, and that's it. There was no announcement. There was no warning, no information, nothing.

    I think this whole operation is causing a lot of harm to many people and a lot of suffering. And I don't really believe that it is necessary or appropriate.

  • William Brangham:

    Shanghai reported 4,500 new infections today, which is still relatively low compared to the surges in other countries. These tight restrictions stem from President Xi Jinping's and the Chinese Communist Party's zero COVID strategy, which aims not to just manage the virus, but to eliminate it with lockdowns, massive testing, and forced quarantines.

    Across China, these official shutdowns have been picking up in recent months, especially in factory cities like Shenzhen. But the clampdown in Shanghai is by far the biggest since the pandemic first began, when government locked down the city of Wuhan, home to 11 million people for 76 days.

    With 26 million residents, Shanghai is China's largest city, and analysts worry these closures will deliver an economic blow to China's and the world's financial engine.

    Yanzhong Huang is a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    Yanzhong Huang, Council on Foreign Relations: China was very successful by using the zero COVID strategy in containing the spread of the virus, shielding the Chinese population from the virus.

    But it was precisely the success of that strategy, only a very small percentage of the population actually are exposed to the virus. But now, when you have a variant that is so highly transmissible, so — pretty much, that makes it almost impossible, right, to not just detect all the cases, but also to track and trace those contacts.

  • William Brangham:

    Starting today in phase two, residents west of the Huangpu River will not be able to leave home for five days, and deliveries will be left at checkpoints. Nonessential business and public transportation will also be shut down.

    Earlier in the week, the government converted Shanghai's convention center into a makeshift hospital to house patients, with 6,000 available beds. Nationwide, China's uptick in cases had been driven by an outbreak in Jilin Province. Local officials there have also instituted travel bans and partial lockdowns in several cities.

    Back in Shanghai, empty streets, people locked away in their homes, as China's war against the coronavirus continues.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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