China is organizing in Shanghai the largest containment since the containment of Wuhan

Since Friday, more than 26 million people have been prevented from leaving their homes in Shanghai. The massive confinement is similar to the one organized in Wuhan at the start of the Covid-19 epidemic. A French expat who was immediately present in front of France 24 testified.

The streets are almost deserted. “There are still a few police cars and delivery trucks still in circulation,” Eric*, a French expat in Shanghai, told FRANCE 24, who has been confined to his apartment since Friday 1Verse April.

This weekend, Shanghai, one of China’s major economic lungs, extended a ban on leaving their homes for all of its 26 million residents. Including the Xuhui district, which is west of the Huangpu River and where Eric lives. Previously, only half of the city east of this river, since March 28, was affected by these measures to combat the spread of the Omicron strain of Sars-CoV-2 virus.

First containment in Shanghai

China has not had to take containment measures of this magnitude since the initial efforts in the spring of 2020 to eradicate Covid-19 from Wuhan, the city where the virus was first identified.

Images of soldiers called in as reinforcements to enforce containment measures, of hundreds of volunteers in medical suits who have passed on-chain PCR tests, also evoke these early days of the battle against Covid-19 in China.

Looking at it from the West, where the impression of an end to the pandemic is beginning to emerge as countries release health pressure one by one, these snapshots are above all a reminder that the virus continues to spread.

>> Read also: “Covid-19: Is it time for the end of health restrictions in France?”

In China, more than 13,000 new cases were recorded on Sunday, April 3. A case that may seem absurd compared to some European countries such as France, which sees nearly 130,000 new cases per day. But for Beijing, which prides itself on having successfully implemented a “zero Covid” policy – eliminating the virus rather than controlling its spread – this is exaggerated.

Of the total infections in China, more than 8,000 have been recorded in Shanghai. There’s another bad news for the Chinese government because so far, “the city has been an exception having gone through the epidemic without being subjected to any specific measures to restrict traffic,” Eric recalls.

The authorities have succeeded in implementing the policy of eradicating the foci of infection, which has proven effective until then. Once the contamination situation was determined, the authorities placed the entire house where the patient lived in quarantine. And in Shanghai, “a dwelling could be the size of a small town in France,” defines Eric, who lives in a dwelling of about 4,000 residents.

Online group purchases

But the alternative Omicron got better from this device. On Sunday, March 27, health authorities admitted that they were overwhelmed by the mutation of the virus, which is much more contagious than the original strain of Sars-CoV-2.

The initial solution was to confine the eastern part of the city first and then, after five days, to lift the restrictions there and impose them on the western part. It was a way for local authorities to try to minimize the economic impact of this strict restriction. Shanghai is not only China’s financial center – its second largest stock exchange after Hong Kong – but its port is also the largest in the world. It alone accounts for nearly 20% of all China’s imports and exports.

But this plan did not go smoothly. The spread of the virus east of the Huangpu River could not be stopped late last week, forcing authorities to opt for a costly complete lockdown of the city.

>> To read also: “China’s ‘zero-Covid’ strategy, a political and health imperative”

For the population, “the feeling of uncertainty regarding the development of the situation prevails above all else,” emphasizes Eric. Shanghai residents stole store shelves just in case…and “some home delivery apps aren’t working anymore, due to a lack of products,” the French expat admits.

At his home, “we’ve made group purchases on orders that are still working,” he said. Then a team of volunteers goes down to collect the food and is responsible for distributing the food to the entire population.

This mutual assistance for group purchases is not limited to Eric’s residence. It also led to abuses in some neighborhoods, especially upscale neighborhoods, where residents literally stole the stock of food delivery services, according to the Financial Times.

Solidarity is not limited to races. Some applications, such as the WeChat messaging service, have enabled city dwellers to overcome some of the shortcomings of the authorities.

The authorities are overwhelmed

This is especially the case with the medical services. “We have not succeeded in providing sufficient guarantees for everyone’s welfare,” said Ma Chunli, general secretary of the Shanghai local government on Thursday, March 31. A way to tell that residents didn’t know, for example, which hospitals or clinics continued to receive patients during this confinement period, says the South China Morning Post.

Very quickly, a group of medical students drew up lists, updated almost in real time, of the availability at various institutions of those who had health emergencies that required them to travel to the hospital despite booking. “WeChat has become an essential tool, just to stay properly informed,” Eric admits.

But these private initiatives cannot solve all the problems caused by this confinement of 26 million people and the proliferation of pollution. Consequently, the authorities had to convert public buildings into emergency reception centers. This is how the city’s two giant exhibition centers are now being used to accommodate some of the people who have tested positive.

The city’s health authorities have also come under fire for their decision to separate children who have tested positive from their parents, according to Reuters. Pictures of babies crying in medical centers – whose authenticity is disputed by authorities in Shanghai – have gone viral on Chinese social networks such as Weibo.

These images were quickly blocked. But the health authorities confirmed the existence of a family separation policy. “If a parent is also infected, they can accompany and take care of the child ‘at a designated place’ where they will be treated,” said Wu Qianyu, a municipal health service official. She stressed before the press that “if family members did not meet the conditions for support”, that is, they were not infected with pollution, the children will be separated from their parents.

The existence of these contested measures and the reaction of netizens show that the price to pay for a “zero covid” policy is high. Especially for dealing with an infectious variant like Omicron.

* The first name has been changed.

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