China places 17 million residents of Shenzhen under Covid lockdown
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China places 17 million residents of Shenzhen under Covid lockdown


Hong Kong’s neighboring city Shenzhen will be put under a citywide lockdown starting Monday, the local government announced after it reported 66 new coronavirus cases. 

Home to tech giants including Huawei and Tencent, the city of around 17 million across the border from Covid-hit Hong Kong has told residents to get tested three times between March 14 and 20. During the period, they must stay home to tamp down an Omicron flare-up. 

In a notice on Sunday, it announced that essential operations including water, electricity, fuel, telecommunications, environmental hygiene and food supply will continue. Supplies to Hong Kong will also continue. 

Workers of non-essential businesses must work from home. Except supermarkets, pharmacies, medical institutions and eateries providing takeaways, all shops are ordered to close. 

Transportation will be maintained at a basic level to keep the city running and to maintain cross-border supplies. On top of the bare minimal, all public transport including metro will be called to a stop. 

Communities and villages will be placed under close-loop management. Residents cannot leave except in exceptional circumstances, and they must have tested negative within 24 hours. 

“If prevention and control is not strengthened in a timely and decisive manner, it could easily become large-scale community transmission,” Shenzhen health official Lin Hancheng said at a Sunday briefing.

The surge in infections across China has also prompted authorities to close schools in Shanghai and lock down multiple northeastern cities, as 18 provinces battle clusters of the Omicron and Delta variants.

China, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, has maintained a strict ‘zero-Covid’ policy enforced with swift lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing when clusters have emerged. But the latest flare-up, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant and a spike in asymptomatic cases, is testing the efficacy of that approach.

Shanghai has so far been spared a citywide order to stay at home, but individual housing compounds were being locked down as the megacity ramped up efforts to contain infections and test suspected close contacts.

Jilin — the city at the centre of the outbreak in the northeast — was partially locked down Saturday, while residents of Yanji, an urban area of nearly 700,000 bordering North Korea, were also confined to their homes Sunday.

Zhang Yan, a Jilin health commission official, said the response from local authorities had been lacking.

“There is insufficient understanding of the characteristics of the Omicron variant… and judgment has been inaccurate,” he said at a Sunday press briefing.

The neighbouring city of Changchun — an industrial base of nine million people — was locked down Friday, while at least three other small cities have been locked down since March 1. The mayor of Jilin and the head of the Changchun health commission were dismissed from their jobs Saturday, state media reported, in a sign of the pressure placed on local authorities to contain virus clusters.

In Hong Kong, authorities have reported on Sunday 32,430 Covid cases on Sunday, including 13,335 cases confirmed by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and 19,095 by rapid antigen tests.

While the government had said it would like to conduct citywide testing alongside measures to restrict people’s movements, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it is not a priority. The measure will be rolled out when the outbreak goes downtrend and before the city reopens its border.  

(Staff and AFP) 

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