Shanghai residents bristle as authorities turn COVID screws


SHANGHAI, March 10 (Reuters) - An uncompromising response to a spike in local COVID-19 cases in the Chinese financial hub of Shanghai is testing the resolve of residents, with a wave of school closures and other draconian measures causing disruptions throughout the city.

China's health authority said another 76 asymptomatic local infections were found in Shanghai on Wednesday, and authorities have been sealing off schools, residential compounds and office blocks as part of a "dynamic clearance" approach aimed at shutting down each new transmission route as soon as it arises.

China has insisted its "zero-COVID" strategy is cost-effective and saves lives, even as other countries seek to coexist with a virus that has killed 6 million people worldwide.

But there are signs that after more than two years of battling the pandemic, the public is starting to bristle.

One resident, surnamed Yan, has been quarantined in Shanghai University for a week after several cases were recorded there.

"I didn't expect the situation to get so bad so I only took a little stuff for daily use with me," he said. "I thought the quarantine would last just one day or so."

"As I have my own office, I can sleep alone but some seven or eight colleagues had to sleep in one big room," he added.

Residents also took to China's Twitter-like Weibo microblogging platform to complain about what would happen to their pets if they were caught without warning in Shanghai's widening COVID-19 dragnet.

Bank workers told Reuters they have already taken a suitcase to the office to prepare for potential lockdowns, while a manager at an international school in Shanghai said he had been asked by his employers to stockpile two weeks of supplies in his office.

"Why not simply ask people to work from home until any period of heightened risk passes?” he said. “It's starting to look like some of these measures are theatrical and for show - companies and organizations want to show how onboard they are with the 'fight against COVID'."

The variant known as Omicron is more infectious though less deadly than previous strains. With many carriers asymptomatic, it is harder to detect, and experts say it is putting China's defences under strain.

Though the Shanghai government has not confirmed that its new cases are Omicron, other regions in China – including Gansu, Shandong and Shaanxi – have all said they are now dealing with the new variant.

"2020 AGAIN"

Schools are bearing the brunt of Shanghai's anti-COVID measures, with some already shut down.

Another large international school in the city said on Thursday that pupils will be quarantined on site for two days after one was found to have been in "close contact" with a confirmed case.

It also told parents to refrain from sharing information about the lockdown on social media.

But analysts have warned that the economic costs of "zero-COVID" are rising, with sectors like tourism and entertainment hurt badly by the shutdowns. Xuhui district in central Shanghai said on Wednesday that it was shutting down public venues and cultural spaces like parks, libraries and cinemas until further notice.

"Ah, how come it is 2020 again?" said one frustrated resident, posting on Weibo under the user name ChineseRock. "It's so annoying. Shanghai recently seems to have had compounds or office blocks quarantined every day."

While some overseas experts have said China's "dynamic clearance" policies have been rendered ineffective by Omicron, Chinese officials and experts have insisted that this is no time to relax restrictions. read more

"Since the epidemic is still raging around the world, there are still many uncertainties in the mutation of the new coronavirus, and the possibility of increased virulence cannot be ruled out," said Zhang Boli, a parliamentary delegate and medical adviser, told Reuters this week.

"China will still adhere to its existing prevention and control policies for some time to come."

Reporting by David Stanway, Engen Tham, Brenda Goh and the Shanghai newsroom, additional reporting by Roxanne Liu and the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Kim Coghill

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