Shanghai’s Covid cases jumped more than 60% in a single day, hitting a record 1,609 on Friday, even as authorities widened restrictions that have limited access to food and medical care with devastating consequences.
Zhou Shengni died of asthma Wednesday night after being turned away from Shanghai East Hospital, where she worked as a nurse, according to a statement from the medical center in the city’s Pudong district. The emergency department was closed for disinfection under Covid control rules and she subsequently died in another hospital, it said.
Scores of buildings and apartment blocks remained locked down in the Chinese financial hub amid the growing outbreak, part of a wave that’s challenging China’s zero-tolerance approach as the rest of the world abolishes 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 prioritize Covid patients and close out-patient services.
“We deeply mourn for the unfortunate death,” Wu Jinglei, director of the Shanghai Heath Commission, said at a press conference on Friday. “Hospitals need Covid testing and disinfection, but also need to reduce the impact on normal services and secure the emergency needs of patients.”
Health authorities on Friday asked anyone in Shanghai who has not yet been tested for Covid to do so before 6 p.m. local time or they will face movement restrictions. The city will continue to conduct testing on a rolling basis to curb the spread of the virus, and officials reiterated the importance of wearing a face mask even as masks face limitations in stopping omicron.
China reported another 4,790 new cases on Friday, including 3,489 people without symptoms, state television reported. New infections in Jilin continued to exceed 2,000. In Shanghai, 1,580 of the infections among the city’s 25 million residents were asymptomatic, the health commission said.
The situation underscores the hurdles officials face in implementing President Xi Jinping’s dual goals of eliminating the virus and minimizing the economic and social impacts of the Covid Zero strategy. While the country is still deploying measures like 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 have ruled out fully isolating the city, though parts of it will be sealed off and further tested in a move some fear will plunge the financial hub into a de facto lockdown. The city plans to use stadiums and exhibition centers 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 financial district, started serving as a quarantine hotel this week, according to hotel staff.
Shanghai’s top doctor signaled a silver lining, though warned restrictions aren’t likely to be eased soon.
Fewer than 10% of new cases are coming from non-restricted areas, indicating community spread is gradually being brought under control, said Zhang Wenhong, the city’s chief Covid adviser and an infectious disease doctor. It signals the turning point is drawing near, but the city needs to continue to test, he said at a press briefing in Shanghai on Friday.
Shanghai’s response had prevented caseloads climbing into the the tens of thousands, he said. “All the existing restrictions — work from home, home schooling, no dine-in– won’t stop the virus’s exponential spread unless we are thorough with testing,” he said.