Shanghai's Covid-19 cases hit a record 1,600 amid stricter, localised lockdown

People line up for Covid-19 testing following an outbreak in Shanghai on March 24, 2022. - Reuters

SHANGHAI, March 25 (Bloomberg/Reuters): Shanghai's Covid-19 cases jumped more than 60 per cent in a single day, topping 1,600 on Friday (March 25), even as the authorities escalated restrictions that many feared would plunge the Chinese financial hub into city-wide lockdown.

There were 1,609 new infections, a record in the city of about 25 million people, including 1,580 without any symptoms, the Shanghai Health Commission said.

Scores of buildings and apartment blocks remained locked down for testing amid the growing outbreak, part of a wave that is challenging China's zero-tolerance approach as the rest of the world is abolishing pandemic restrictions.

Frustrated residents are struggling to secure fresh food as some compounds refuse to let them leave, while accessing medical care gets harder as select hospitals prioritise Covid-19 patients and shut out-patient services.

The situation underscores the hurdles officials face in implementing President Xi Jinping's dual goals of eliminating the virus and minimising the economic and social impacts of the Covid-Zero strategy.

While the country is still deploying measures such as hardcore lockdowns in some areas - residents in the entire province of Jilin, in China's northeast, are confined to their homes - the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron strain to China's most economically significant hubs has prompted a pivot to more targeted approaches.

Shanghai officials ruled out a broad lockdown, though some parts of the city will be sealed off and further tested.

The financial hub plans to use stadiums and exhibition centres to quarantine people with mild and asymptomatic infections, with facilities in Jiading and Minhang districts already revamped for that purpose. Pudong Shangri-La, a luxury hotel located in the heart of the city's financial district, started serving as a quarantine hotel this week, according to hotel staff.

Overall, China reported 1,366 confirmed coronavirus cases for Thursday, down from 2,054 a day earlier, though the number of asymptomatic infections increased.

Asymptomatic cases, which China counts separately, rose from 2,829 to 3,622.

The central government this week dispatched 10 inspection teams to monitor outbreaks nationwide and ensure its instructions are being heeded locally. Besides Shanghai, the provinces of Shaanxi and Shandong are also under scrutiny by the authorities.

As of Thursday, mainland China had recorded a total of 140,651 confirmed symptomatic cases. There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,638. - Bloomberg/Reuters

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