Shanghai Locks Down As Omicron Surges

On March 28th, Shanghai, a large metropolitan city in China, imposed a two-stage lockdown on the city, which confined everyone to their homes as authorities mass-test the entire population. Twenty-five million residents in Shanghai were forced to undergo quarantine in effect as they are all tested for a new surge in Covid cases. China has been adamant in upholding its strict zero-Covid policy since the pandemic started back in 2019.

More than two years later, China again finds itself having to force the entire population in Shanghai in strict lockdown. People were left in their homes and many are faced with challenges such as food shortages and other health issues. The national efforts of strict lockdown and forced quarantine to protect the unaffected populace has forced children away from their parents and had caused many public outcries in recent days.

There have been many challenges in Shanghai’s pandemic response. Local officials’ efforts in administering Covid tests and delivering meals and necessities to residents involved missteps and mistakes which led to many residents starving at home due to food shortages. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Shanghai municipal government’s deputy secretary-general, Gu Honghui, made a statement on the “weak links” that concern the city’s pandemic protocols. The weak links include a shortage of quarantine facilities for the infected and emergency-response services.

The two-phase quarantine has lasted roughly ten days as of April 10th. Like many previous lockdowns imposed in major cities, the Chinese Covid response was met with public frustration and protests. Many residents have been denied basic medical care as the city’s healthcare system is occupied at full capacity. Many other non-Covid related deaths have seen an increase since the pandemic as hospitals are more intent on treating patients with Covid-19 rather patients with other illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illness.

The zero-Covid policy will only be met with more challenges as the variant Omicron becomes more difficult to contain due to its infectiousness. One critical aspect the response fails to address is in the lack of appeasing the mass population and providing further reasoning or justifications for continuing to implement this policy. Many have turned to social media to express their frustration for being left on the brink of starvation. It is unfortunate to see people starving and the issue being unaddressed as they are powerless and stuck within the confines of their homes.

Critics have argued that the zero-Covid policy may be deemed unnecessary and had done more harm than good. However, it is difficult to implement a perfect policy when it comes to Covid, especially in a country like China. China’s population is much more concentrated and the general population is not as scattered as Western countries. Another reason for the zero-Covid policy is due to China’s large elderly population. Elderly people in mainland China have among the lowest vaccination rates in the world. There may be side effects for the elderly with medical issues. If asymptomatic cases are allowed to roam in Chinese cities, hordes of elderly people will likely die as a result. 

As of now, China is looking to continue to use the zero-Covid approach. Sun Chunlan, a deputy prime minister that is in charge of battling Covid, had reiterated the state’s “unswerving adherence to the dynamic zero-Covid approach.” It will be difficult to envision political leaders pushing for a drastic change in Covid policy in the future. Prior to the surge of the Omicron variant, China’s mass testing and strict lockdowns to crush outbreaks had been deemed quite successful by Xi Jinping.

One possible solution is to implement a new policy that will lessen the degree of the strict zero-Covid policy and implement softer lockdowns that focus on the infected rather than the whole population. One notable thing is that according to a top health official, only 197 cases out of the 100,000 reported cases in China were severe or critical. It is undeniable that the current approach of imposing strict lockdowns is at great human costs and have not proved to be as effective when battling the highly infectious Omicron variant.

There will always be problems when a lockdown is implemented in a city in which 25 million people reside. It will be difficult to cater to every individual’s needs when the goal is to prioritize the collective interest. People with medical needs and facing food shortages will face greater challenges than others yet they are often overlooked and neglected. For now, a new change in the zero-Covid approach is necessary for the battle against Omicron and perhaps instrumental keeping the population supportive.