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Shanghai in Lockdown Purgatory as Asia Neighbours Ease Curbs

Shanghai’s long-running Covid lockdown continues while big cities and neighbouring states – Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore – are easing restrictions or set to open up.

A medical worker in a protective suit collects a swab from a resident amid the coronavirus lockdown in Shanghai, April 22, 2022. Cnsphoto via Reuters.


Shanghai’s long-running Covid lockdown continued on Saturday while big cities and states in the region – Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore – are easing restrictions or set to open up.

Officials in Hong Kong, which has had strong border controls for over two years, said on Friday that non-residents will be allowed to fly in from May 1.

Singapore will axe most of its Covid restrictions on April 26, while Thailand said on Friday that visitors will no longer have to undergo tests on arrival from May 1.

The mood in Hong Kong has lifted as social curbs have also been relaxed and case numbers fall. Just 574 cases were reported on Friday.

The Thai business community, which has been battered by the pandemic, were upbeat, with tourism officials saying yesterday that the easing of entry rules could see the country reclaim its place as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.


Shanghai Blues

But the news in Shanghai, China’s top financial hub, was less positive. Officials reported 12 new Covid-related deaths on April 22, up from 11 the previous day, as frustrations among residents continued to boil over amid a harsh lockdown and strict online censorship.

The city, battling China‘s biggest coronavirus outbreak so far, recorded 20,634 new local asymptomatic infections on Friday, rebounding from 15,698 a day earlier. Total new symptomatic cases reached 2,736, up from 1,931 on April 21, official data showed.

The patients who died had an average age of 88, the Shanghai government said. All had underlying health conditions, and none had been vaccinated.

Though frustrations continued to bubble over in Shanghai’s sealed off residential compounds, local officials insisted that there would be no relaxation until new cases outside of quarantine areas have all been cleared.

“The more critical the period becomes, the more we need to grit our teeth and focus our strength,” Shanghai Mayor Gong Zheng was quoted as saying on Shanghai’s official government WeChat channel late on Friday.

The number of cases outside quarantine areas stood at 218 on Friday, down from 250 the previous day.

Shanghai’s full-city lockdown began at the start of April, though many residents have been confined to their homes for much longer.

But even after shutting down for more than 30 days, some compounds are still reporting new cases, casting doubt on the efficacy of China‘s approach.


‘MRNA Vaccines Needed’

In a study published by China‘s Disease Prevention and Control Centre on Friday, medical experts in the northeastern city of Jilin, the location of another recent outbreak, said China‘s vaccines have been effective so far, though new emerging Covid-19 variants remained unpredictable.

But some foreign health experts say China needs to procure mRNA vaccines, which the country has yet to produce, and focus on helping elderly and vulnerable citizens.

“One strategy that needs immediate implementation is to increase rates of the booster vaccination dose to the elderly and other vulnerable groups and to see if mRNA vaccines can be used,” said Jaya Dantas, a public health expert at the Curtin School of Population Health in Australia, who is monitoring the Shanghai outbreak.

“This is a significant amount of time and does have mental health impacts: people are exhausted and frustrated,” said Dantas.


‘Heavy-Handed’ Response

On social media, netizens battled against censors overnight to share a six-minute video entitled “The Voice of April”, a montage of voices recorded over the course of the Shanghai outbreak.

Panning across Shanghai’s silent skyscrapers, the video consists of residents complaining about the lack of food and medicine, as well as the heavy-handed tactics of city authorities.

All direct references to the film were removed from the Weibo microblogging service by Saturday morning, though some comments criticising the censorship survived.

“I can only say that if you don’t even want to listen to just a small amount of real voices, then it is really hopeless,” one said.


• Jim Pollard with reporting by Reuters



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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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