China is in a turbulent situation due to covid-19 , a disease that does not stop spreading and that has spread widely in two of its most important cities: Beijing and Shanghai, the two engines that drive great part of the country’s economy.

For one thing, Shanghai is the center of the latest outbreak, with more than 10,000 new cases a day . To stem infections, authorities have responded for weeks with a citywide lockdown, isolating nearly all of the 25 million residents in their homes or neighborhoods. The measures have been so strict that they have caused outrage and protest from citizens.

Meanwhile, authorities in Beijing launched massive tests, closed schools and imposed targeted lockdowns in some residential buildings in a bid to curb infections. These actions are raising fears of a broader Shanghai-like lockdown.

Both cities adhere to the rigorous “zero covid” strategy , which China has used throughout the pandemic to curb cases, but which has been called into question by the omicron variant and its high contagion capacity.

China is enforcing full or partial lockdowns in at least 27 cities across the country , with these restrictions affecting up to 165 million people, according to CNN estimates.

This is what you need to know about the covid-19 situation in China.

When did the current covid situation in China start?

Cases in China began to rise in March this year, soon becoming the worst outbreak the country has seen since the initial one in Wuhan in early 2020.

On March 11, authorities in Jilin province placed the capital Changchun under strict lockdown, and the nearby city of Jilin did the same on March 21.

This Thursday, after more than a month of these closures, the authorities of both places, which have a combined population of more than 13.5 million residents, said that they would soon begin to gradually ease the confinements, although it is not clear how that will be. process or under what conditions people will be allowed to leave their homes.

Authorities also locked down several other cities, including the main economic hub of Shenzhen, in March, though some of these measures have since been lifted.

Shanghai, more than 500,000 cases in just over a month

Shanghai has recorded more than half a million cases since March 1. Later that month, the city introduced a tiered lockdown; however, the outlook for infections worsened and the lockdown was complete at the end of March.

Some neighborhoods may begin easing lockdown measures if they have not reported cases in the past two weeks, Shanghai authorities said on Wednesday, but if a single local case is detected, a new lockdown will apply.

Chaos and dysfunction in Shanghai

Much of Shanghai’s lockdown has been marked by chaos and dysfunction, setting off alarm bells in other cities that fear they may be next.

Many residents have complained about food shortages, lack of access to medical services, poor conditions in makeshift quarantine camps and highly strict measures, such as authorities separating infected children from their parents.

The chaos in the city has been reflected in situations such as the following:

  • In March, an off-duty nurse in Shanghai died after being turned away from an emergency room in her own hospital that was closed for disinfection.
  • In early April, a corgi was beaten to death by a health worker after its owner tested positive for Covid. The death was captured on camera.
  • Last week, workers reportedly broke down the door of a 92-year-old woman’s home in the early hours of the morning to force her to self-quarantine.

Shanghai’s situation of desperation and uncertainty has been replicated elsewhere:

  • In March, students at a closed university in Jilin city asked for help, saying they had been left alone without basic supplies.
  • Also in March, some Changchun residents reported difficulty receiving medical care for illnesses unrelated to COVID-19, such as cancer or kidney conditions, with hospitals turning away patients.

What is the situation in Beijing?

In Beijing, a mass testing campaign covered almost 20 million residents, about 90% of the city’s population. Another round of citywide testing is planned for April 27-30.

This week’s targeted lockdowns in Beijing’s Chaoyang district prohibited residents of 13 buildings from leaving their apartments and residents of 33 other buildings from leaving their residential compounds.

China’s capital closed schools in many of its most populous districts on Thursday. Several major hospitals also announced they would close, and a growing number of entertainment venues, including movie theaters, were also ordered closed.

Where are there currently lockdowns?

Full or district lockdowns are in place in more than two dozen cities, including Hangzhou, home to 12.2 million people; Suzhou, home to 12.7 million, and Harbin, home to 9.5 million.

These lockdowns span 14 provinces, from the remote northeastern province of Heilongjiang to southern Guangxi and the mountainous western province of Qinghai.

Overall, the restrictions affect up to 165 million people, according to CNN estimates.

The economic cost

Lockdowns and restrictions have dealt a heavy blow to activity, particularly in economically important cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Unemployment hit a 21-month high in March. Many companies were forced to suspend operations in various places, including the carmakers Volkswagen and Tesla, and Pegatron, the iPhone assembler. China’s currency, the yuan, weakened rapidly this week, falling to the lowest level since November 2020.

Chinese leaders concerned

There are signs that Chinese leaders are also nervous. In March, President Xi Jinping said that China should “minimize the impact of the epidemic on economic and social development.” On Tuesday, the president called for a “total” infrastructure splurge to promote growth, an unusual move for the Chinese leader, who rarely sets out detailed economic plans, usually leaving that to Premier Li Keqiang.

The Chinese government is “painfully aware of the damage to the economy,” said Jörg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, earlier this month. He cited a private meeting with a Chinese ministry but declined to name the agency.

“They are worried about unemployment,” he added. “They are concerned that foreign companies will put money elsewhere.”

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