Shenzhen gets antsy as city tries to quell lockdown rumors

RISING Covid-19 cases have residents of China’s technology hub of Shenzhen fearing their second city-wide lockdown this year, even as officials seek to quash such rumors fueled by the shutdown of another megalopolis to the west.

Video on Chinese social media showed scenes of panic buying, with at least seven of Shenzhen’s 10 districts introducing curbs, among them the closure of entertainment venues and restaurants. Wide swaths of the Futian and Luohu districts, where Covid cases have been found, have been locked down, with residents ordered to stay at home. Those in other districts have been told to avoid gatherings and stay home as much as possible.

The full lockdown Thursday night of Chengdu, which is also experiencing a worsening virus outbreak, fueled concerns, spurring Shenzhen’s anti-epidemic task force to say some of the restrictions were being misconstrued. They asked the city of almost 18 million people — home to the headquarters of tech giants Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Huawei Technologies Co. — to remain calm and go about their daily lives.

The agency said residents must continue to monitor official announcements on the latest Covid guidelines, according to a notice from the city administration.

The anxiety in Shenzhen, which experienced a seven-day city-wide lockdown in mid-March, underscores how China’s enduring Covid Zero policy is keeping the nation on edge almost three years after the first coronavirus case emerged in Wuhan.

Strict Measures

Though China is seeing far fewer infections than other countries that now treat Covid as endemic, Beijing is continuing with a strategy of quashing the virus. The strict control measures are disrupting the economy and leading to social unrest, with protests and complaints common during the grueling lockdown of Shanghai during April and May.

Situated just across the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen was one of the first places in China to use so-called closed loop systems as a way of getting factories moving again despite lockdowns. The systems are now being deployed in Chengdu, as the city’s 21 million residents are told to stay in their homes.

Foxconn Technology Group, the largest assembler of Apple Inc. devices, said in a statement Friday that all its major sites in Shenzhen were operating normally. A plant that makes iPads in Chengdu, however, is operating under a closed loop, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Tencent said it postponed its annual flagship digital ecosystem summit, originally scheduled for Sept. 15 and 16 in Shenzhen, due to Covid.

A video posted on social media showed workers at what is described as a company supermarket for Shenzhen-based carmaker BYD Co. rushing to buy food and queuing for groceries. A representative for BYD didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lockdown Risk High

The risk of another city-wide lockdown in Shenzhen is considerable. The metropolis last introduced strict curbs after discovering 29 cases.

The latest data showed 87 new cases for Thursday, up from 62 the previous day, with most discovered in quarantine. China requires all positive Covid cases and their close contacts to go into mandatory isolation, largely in makeshift hospitals operated by the state. Nationwide, there were 1,855 Covid cases reported for Thursday, down from 1,903 the day before. China’s infections have dropped from a peak of 3,400 in mid-August, but have spread to 25 out of 31 provinces and regions.

China has also locked down cities days after assuring people such moves weren’t being planned. This was the case in Shanghai and in Chengdu.

A Chengdu man surnamed Yu said online Aug. 29 that the city would go into lockdown, triggering panic-buying by residents. Officials said the post was false, and detained Yu for 15 days, fining him 1,000 yuan ($145). Two days later, a city-wide lockdown was imposed. –BLOOMBERG